The number of officials who have left the Whitehall department trying to deliver Brexit is equivalent to more than half of its total staff, shock new figures reveal.
Data seen by The Independent shows hundreds of civil servants went elsewhere as the department tried to get on its feet and cobble together a negotiating stance for the UK over the last two years.
The exodus means the average age of workers left in the department is 32, though they are tasked with winning a complex deal that could change Britain for a generation.
The information obtained by the Liberal Democrats appears to corroborate previous reports about an extraordinarily high turnover at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu), with critics now claiming it points to “deep instability” at the heart of the government’s Brexit operation.
The data comes as political divisions over Brexit, which have stymied the department’s work, once again burst into public over the weekend with…
- A new plot to kill off Theresa May’s Brexit plans emerging
- Cabinet ministers at loggerheads over a no deal
- David Davis confirming he will vote against Ms May’s plan
- A new poll suggesting the union is at risk from Brexit
According to the turnover data obtained under freedom of information, a staggering 357 staff have left the Dexeu in just two years.
Yet the total number of those employed at the Whitehall department amounts to only 665, indicating a turnover rate of more than 50 per cent in that period.
The department points out that those who have left include fixed-term appointees, those on loan from other departments, contractors and apprentices.
But the details do not change a further fact revealed in the released data: that the average age of those left is just 32.
A Dexeu spokesman argued that the department was set up as a time-limited operation with “a clear mandate to carry out a historic task”.
He said: “In keeping with this, the majority of our staff are employed on fixed-term contracts or are loaned from other government departments, and many have been drawn from civil service talent streams.
“Many of those who have left to date have moved on to other government departments because their loan or rotation ended. Only a small minority have actually left the civil service.”
But the National Audit Office highlighted in December 2017 how churn at Dexeu is running at nine per cent a quarter, when the civil service average was nine per cent a year.
At that time the Institute for Government, a think tank, said the turnover should “cause concern both within and outside the department”.
By the end of that year Dexeu had lost its top civil servant and three senior ministers – it has since lost its secretary of state.
Tom Brake MP, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson, said: “If it wasn’t enough that the country is being torn out of the EU by the incompetent leadership of Theresa May and her dysfunctional and divided cabinet, it would appear that the government’s Brexit department turnover is higher than that for managers in the English Premier League.”
He added: “When the government’s key Brexit department is being hollowed out it is no wonder that a no deal is ever more likely.”
Ministers have embarked on an urgent recruitment drive to ensure Brexit preparations are completed in time.
Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said earlier this month that he had been given funding for an additional 7,000 staff to work on preparations across Whitehall.
The Treasury has set aside £3bn to fund this, although only around a third of the money has been allocated.
On Sunday the political division that has delayed the government from crystallising its approach to Brexit resurfaced as the summer break comes to a close.
Sir Lynton Crosby is said to have ordered allies to work with former minister Steve Baker and other hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group of Tory MPs – chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg – to bring down Ms May’s Chequers proposal, something that could well lead to her fall.
One potential plan is to revive the campaign group Change Britain, which some see as a possible platform for a Boris Johnson leadership campaign.
Former Brexit secretary Mr Davis confirmed in an interview that he will vote against any deal with the EU based on Theresa May’s Chequers compromise.
The Eurosceptic ex-cabinet minister said the proposals put forward by Ms May would be “worse than staying in” the European Union.
His admission makes it more likely the prime minister will be unable to get any deal based on her plans through the House of Commons where she has a wafer thin majority and a number of her own MPs already openly oppose her proposals.
A Deltapoll survey for the Best for Britain campaign group showed 47 per cent of people would vote to make Scotland independent while just 43 per cent would vote for it to remain in the UK.
In Northern Ireland the poll showed 56 per cent of voters would back a united Ireland if Britain left the EU and a hard border existed, while 40 per cent would keep the Union and four per cent did not know.
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