Background to the report

The National Audit Office has produced 28 reports up to September 2020 examining government’s preparations for the UK leaving the EU. These reports are varied in scope and breadth, matching the work undertaken by government, and have directly supported Parliamentary scrutiny of preparations for EU Exit.

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While at the time EU Exit was a challenge with little historical precedent, there are a number of challenges government now faces where our EU Exit work insights will have relevance. Government still has a lot to do to manage EU Exit, particularly in preparations for the border. The government is now also responding to the demands of a global pandemic which similarly requires a fast-paced response, innovative policy solutions, coordinated action across government and effective, external transparency and communication. Longer-term challenges for government include preparing for the transition to a net zero carbon economy, which will require the civil service to innovate and operate in new ways.

Content and scope of the report

In this report we draw on the breadth of the NAO’s EU Exit work to identify and share our perspectives on what government can learn from its experiences. We set out key learning points which have relevance for the civil service’s continued work on managing the UK’s exit from the EU and more widely.

We have consolidated our learning for government into nine insights which fall into four key areas: planning, oversight, collaboration and financial management. For each insight, we set out observations on what has happened in practice on EU Exit preparations, and some points to consider in the future.

“Preparing for EU Exit continues to be a highly complex and challenging task for government and stakeholders. Our work draws out the learning from government’s experience to help it improve its approach, by planning for multiple outcomes ahead of time, ensuring clear oversight structures, collaborating more effectively, and ensuring strong financial management is built in from the start.

“Government can draw on this learning in preparing for the end of the transition period and beyond, and in managing other cross-government challenges including its response to COVID-19 and net zero.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO