Theresa May has written to civil servants saying no-deal preparations must carry on despite a new October deadline for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
An email seen by the Guardian shows that the prime minister has told government staff that plans for crashing out of the EU are necessary and will continue to be signed off by permanent secretaries.
It follows criticism of May’s government for wasting money after it emerged in a leaked email to Sky News that no-deal plans were being “wound down”.
In an email sent to the civil service on Monday, May clarified this point, writing that some no-deal planning would continue. Senior civil servants including the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, would decide which plans could be shelved, the prime minister said.
“On preparations specifically for leaving the EU without a deal, you will rightly be guided by the cabinet secretary and by your own permanent secretaries about continued planning. Necessary preparations for a no-deal outcome must continue, though with sensibly adjusted timescales given the extension we have agreed,” May wrote.
On Friday, it emerged that the government stood down Operation Yellowhammer, its contingency planning operation for dealing with the worst-case scenarios resulting from a no-deal Brexit, after the postponement of the UK’s exit from the EU.
About 6,000 civil servants have been preparing for a no-deal Brexit, at an estimated cost of £1.5bn.
The decision followed an agreement between the EU council and the UK to push back the date of Brexit to 31 October.
However, there were conflicting reports about the extent to which no-deal planning would continue.
Staff who had been seconded from elsewhere will now return to their normal duties, but there is no clear role for an estimated 4,500 new recruits. Around 16,000 civil servants have been redeployed or recruited to fill EU exit related posts.
In the email, May also praised the civil service for its work on Brexit preparations. “I hope you are able to take advantage of a well-deserved break over the Easter Holiday,” she said.
May’s letter has been welcomed by the FDA union, that represents senior civil servants.
Dave Penman, the head of the FDA, said he hoped her email represents a change in tone following criticisms of the civil service from fellow Tories.
“Too often, she and her ministers have been silent as those within her own party have sought to undermine the impartiality and integrity of the civil service.
“I hope this marks a change of approach from the prime minister and that the civil servants she has heaped praise on today can rely on her to defend them in the future,” he said.