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LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May returns from her holiday on Monday facing concern from ministers and civil servants that Brexit legislation is being “rushed through” without proper scrutiny, according to reports.
The doubts have been raised in recent meetings chaired by Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s most senior civil servant, the Times newspaper claims.
Ministers and civil servants allegedly warned Heywood that decisions on Brexit within government were being made too quickly and resulting in poor policy-making.
The period of time allowed for Whitehall to give feedback on government proposals has reportedly been reduced from 12 days to just three.
An unnamed source in the civil service told the newspaper: “They’ve had months to prepare but now DExEU is in essay crisis mode, meaning minimum scrutiny for vital negotiation documents. It’s either a deliberate, cynical move to avoid scrutiny or further proof they weren’t ready for Brexit when they triggered Article 50.”
The government will this week produce position papers revealing Britain’s negotiating approach to at least two key aspects of Brexit: the customs union and Northern Ireland.
The first will say that the government’s wants a transitional customs arrangement once Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, while the second will present a possible solution to the Northern Ireland border dilemma, according to recent reports.
May is keen to make significant progress on her plans for Brexit in order to dispel feelings both at home and on the continent that Britain is unprepared for its negotiations with the EU.
Last month Steve Bullock, a former UK negotiator to the EU, told Business Insider that May’s government was handling Brexit in the “absolute worst way” possible.
He claimed EU figures in Brussels were “baffled” by how ill-equipped the British side appeared to be in talks earlier this year.
Michael Leigh, a former senior official in the European Commission, accused the British side of not using the time available to it to prepare for negotiations in an interview with BI.
Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will resume talks later this month, while in London government ministers are trying to present a united front on Brexit after weeks of disagreement.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and Trade Secretary Liam Fox wrote a joint article for the Telegraph over the weekend in an attempt to quell accusations of division between the cabinet’s hard Brexiteers and more moderate voices.
The pair said that the UK will seek a transition deal for leaving the EU, but that any deal will not be a “back door” to staying in the bloc and would be limited in its time period.
Anna Soubry MP, a former Conservative minister and one of the party’s most anti-Brexit MPs on Sunday threatened to quit the Tories if Prime Minister May “sides with the hardliners” in the party over leaving the EU. Soubry has a record of being outspoken when it comes to Brexit and in an interview with Business Insider last year described the idea that Britain could leave the single market and arrange a better trade deal as “stuff of the fairies.”