Top civil servant refuses to give assurances about no-deal Brexit

A top government official has warned he “can’t tell you it will all be fine” at Britain’s borders if the country crashes out of the European Union.

Jon Thompson told MPs he was unable to give them any assurances about what would happen if there was a failure to secure an exit deal.

The head of HM Customs and Revenue said his French counterparts would not speak to him about the border because negotiations all went through Brussels.

It comes after another Whitehall mandarin admitted concerns over medicine supplies after Brexit were keeping him awake at night.

Mr Thompson told the Brexit committee the French authorities would not talk to the UK about whether there will be extra border checks at Calais if no deal is reached.

He said: “They won’t have a conversation at all.”

Mr Thompson called for a “practical approach” to the border, warning “the impact on France, Belgium, Ireland and Holland will also be dramatic”.

He said he could not give any assurances “whatsoever” of what would happen in the event of no deal.

“I can’t tell you it will all be fine, I absolutely cannot tell you,” he said.

Operation Stack
Lorries parked up on the M20 motorway (John Stillwell/PA)

Sir Chris Wormald told MPs he lost sleep about the impact quitting the EU would have on the NHS workforce as well as future arrangements about treating patients on their travels.

The Department of Health’s permanent secretary said the issues he was concerned about were the same regardless of whether a deal had been struck.

Asked about his main concerns, he replied: “Those three are securing the supply of medicines, workforce questions and reciprocal health care arrangements with the EU 27.

“Those are the three things that keep me awake on this subject.”

Sir Chris told the committee most health issues “haven’t been hugely contentious”.

“Most of our issues are practical ones,” he added.

Sir Chris sidestepped questions over whether he was confident supplies of essential medicines would be maintained in the event of no deal, saying he never issued guarantees.

He said buffer stocks were being organised but there would be other decisions that needed to be made “along the way”.

“We are confident that we are putting in place all the correct mitigations but, an incredibly complex supply chain, it of course remains very challenging.

“I should say it’s quite challenging in normal circumstances. There are always medicines that we are worried about at any given time.”

Sir Chris was setting out the preparations being made for Brexit along with other top civil servants.

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, told MPs “advanced plans” for dealing with queuing lorries were being put in place on the M20, M26 and at Manston Airport in Kent.

Asked if contracts had been signed for portable toilets for lorry drivers held up on motorways in the south east, she told MPs “necessary arrangements” were being made.

Ms Kelly also told the committee she expected air passengers would be able to fly to and from the UK in the “extremely unlikely” event that no deal was reached.

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