UK Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly facing a cabinet split, workload, and funding problems which threaten to derail her Brexit timetable, according to a leaked memo. The government is also accused of having no clear strategy to break from the EU. May committed to triggering Article 50 and the formal start of Brexit talks by the end of March 2017.
The memo, prepared by an unidentified consultant and circulated within Whitehall, slammed May's style of governance, saying that her way of "drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself" cannot be sustained.
It also said that civil servants were struggling to cope with the workload and timetable set by May and that the government had no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.
The memo, dated 7 November and titled Brexit Update, was seen by The Times. A government source told the newspaper that the memo had not been commissioned by the government but the The Times said it understands the author prepared the memo "under his own initiative."
A Downing Street spokesman told The Times: "This is not a government report and we don't recognise the claims made in it. We are focused on getting on with the job of Brexit and making a success of it."
The memo stated: "Despite extended debate among permanent secretaries, no common strategy has emerged."
It highlights splits within the Cabinet that are also affecting Brexit preparations, noting that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox have taken sides against Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark.
The memo also said that the Treasury believes that it is responsible for financial services, while the business department and the Department of Health (DoH) are both coveting life sciences and the Department of Communications is in charge of telecoms.
Given the situation, the memo said that senior ranks in the Civil Service "will feel compelled to present potential high level plan(s) to avoid further drift."
There is also the matter of funding. The memo notes that capacity building is slow, partly due to deliberate control by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury's position that all departments will meet Brexit costs from existing settlements.
This is despite the fact that headcounts are expected to rise between 10,000 to 30,000 to cope with the more than 500 Brexit-related projects that need to be tackled.
The memo warns that there is likely to be a "further squeeze on spending on departmental operating costs to compensate for new spending." It said Hammond, who is due to deliver his first Autumn Statement on 23 November is likely to focus new government spending on infrastructure instead.
Corporate lobbying to continue after Nissan assurance
The memo also pointed out that industry lobbying is expected to continue for company-specific decisions after the government provided assurances to Nissan in October. "These are viewed as major opportunities/threats for government. Other major players can be expected to, similar to Nissan, point a gun to the government's head."
Clark confirmed at the end of October that the government had promised Nissan that it will seek a tariff-free trade deal with the EU to pave the way for car manufacturers to be exempt from "bureaucratic impediments".
Government's political survival
The memo also noted that the industry has to realise two "unpleasant" things. The first is that government's priority remains its political survival and not the economy.
Secondly, there will be "no clear economic-Brexit strategy any time soon because it is being developed on a case-by-case basis as specific decisions are forced on government."
The memo claims that May's over-riding objective is to keep her party from repeating its history of splitting four times in the past 200 years over global trade, which resulted in the Tories being out of power for 15-30 years each time.
"The public stance of government is orientated primarily to its own supporters. It said that a general election would only be seen as last resort as the boundary changes that will favour the Conservatives will not take effect until 2019 and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act stops Prime Ministerial freedom to call for an election at will.