Tax will fund post-EU bodies with no scrutiny by MPs

Written By: David Hencke
Published: March 15, 2018 Last modified: March 15, 2018

Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money will be spent setting up bodies  to replace work done by the European Union, some using a Whitehall  wheeze devised by a Treasury mandarin to get round  scrutiny by MPs.

Michael Gove (pictured), the environment secretary, is expected to be the first to use the new system to allow ministers to spend large sums of money on Brexit without the approval of Parliament.

The wheeze  involves turning on its head a procedure called an accounting direction – normally used  when the permanent secretary  wants to challenge spending by a minister as illegal or questionable. Recently civil servants challenged the government paying for a survey requested by a UKIP council in Kent and spending to save one of the last mines in the UK.

Treasury  official  Richard Brown devised a scheme which will allow ministers to get round Parliament by using the same procedure to spend money on Brexit without waiting for legislation to be passed by Parliament. The letter is here. 

It has been sent to 25 ministerial departments, 20 non ministerial departments and over 300 agencies.

It followed a letter from the Treasury and the Department of Exiting the EU which also allowed ministries to raid the contingencies fund without waiting for laws to be passed.

Both senior civil servants are claiming that the requests for extra cash will be known to Parliament as they have informed the chairs of the public accounts committee and the public administration committee. In all the huge coverage of Brexit they might be overlooked.

Already a massive £245million has been routed by a supplementary estimate to spend money on Brexit with Michael Gove’s Defra department taking the lion’s share of £67m closely followed by HM Revenue and Customs with £47m and £42m for the Home Office to work out a new immigration system.

On top the permanent secretary of Defra, Clare Moriarty, has asked Michael Gove to approve £16m for a series of projects without waiting for legislation.

These are:
* A new national import control system for animals, animal products and high risk food and feed. Scheduled to commence building: mid-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £7m.
* Delivery of new IT capability to enable registration and regulation of chemical substances placed on the UK market. Scheduled to commence building: February 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £5.8m.
* Delivery of systems for the licensing and marketing of veterinary medicines. Scheduled to commence building: end-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £1.6m.
* Development of a new catch certificate system for UK fish and fish products being exported to the EU on Exit. Scheduled to commence: building end-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £1.0m.
* Development of a UK system to manage the quota of fluorinated gases and ozone depleting substances required under the UN Montreal Protocol. Scheduled to commence: March 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £0.5m.
* Development of data exchange arrangements to identify the movement of EU and third country vessels in UK waters and the movement of UK vessels in EU or third country waters. Scheduled to commence: April 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £0.1m

Not all accounting directions need to be reported immediately so Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, is planning to table a Parliamentary Question to ask how often this wheeze is being used.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent