Implementing the UK’s Exit from the European Union: The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Author (Corporate)
Series Title
Series Details December 2017
Publication Date December 2017
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The National Audit Office published in December 2017 a briefing on how the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) was preparing for the UK’s exit from the EU. With almost all of its areas of responsibility framed by EU legislation, Defra was a key player within government negotiations on the withdrawal agreement and the future partnership with the EU.

The briefing set out the following:

+ The scale of Defra’s task. The EU affects virtually all of Defra’s activities, which meant Defra faced an extensive legislative programme. This included two major bills to establish UK policies for agriculture and fisheries and an estimated 95 items of secondary legislation to convert EU laws into UK law.

+ How Defra had set about its task. The department had adapted its governance structures to integrate the EU exit within its existing business as usual. It had drawn up detailed plans for its highest priority work streams.

+ How Defra was working with others including arm’s-length bodies, other government departments and devolved administrations.

Note: The NAO issued a related Briefing in November 2017: Implementing the UK’s exit from the European Union. The Department for Exiting the European Union and the centre of government.


The National Audit Office in the United Kingdom scrutinises public spending for the UK Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Its studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Its recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services. Its work led to audited savings of £734 million in 2016.

In July 2017 the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse had given an interview to selected journalists, in which he expressed concern that the United Kingdom government had failed to take a unified approach to talks with the EU. He suggested that the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), the Treasury and the cabinet office had so far failed to take an 'energetic' lead, leaving other departments to set their own priorities.

Morse said he had suggested to relevant ministers and officials that he would like to see a cross-departmental plan on Brexit implementation. This had not yet been forthcoming.

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Related Links
UK: GOV.UK: DEFRA: Correspondence, 19.01.18: EU exit preparations: ministerial direction
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union
ESO: Find further information in ESO on environmental policies in the UK post-Brexit

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