Last week’s announcement that Oliver Letwin would be charged with putting together different models of Brexit for whoever takes over as Prime Minister to adopt didn’t necessarily reassure that many Tory MPs. Today the head of that Brexit unit came under sustained fire from MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee who seemed staggered not just that the government had done no contingency planning for Britain voting to leave the EU but also that the new unit didn’t yet seem to know what it was doing.
So many of the Committee’s questions received the same answers, all along the lines of 'I can’t tell you that’ or ‘it’s not in my gift’ to do this. The minister told the MPs present that the Prime Minister thought it was important to have a Commissioner after the departure of Lord Hill, but couldn't say when that allegedly important new appointment would be.
The session started with Crispin Blunt telling Letwin that it was a ‘dereliction of duty’ for the government not to do contingency planning for Brexit, with the Committee chair later arguing that ‘in my judgement without the preparation that should have taken place to make this a rather easier exercise than it is now’. Letwin did claim that a ‘huge amount of contingency planning was done to ensure that the markets could be stabilised on the day’, but no contingency planning for what Brexit would look like, and it is clear that the only person in government now thinking about that is Letwin.
‘You’ve been left holding the baby,’ remarked Blunt. ‘The baby is being very firmly held,’ Letwin replied with an ominous chuckle. Hopefully he won’t give it the same treatment as he has given his paperwork in the past…