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No-deal Brexit would be step into unknown, says former DExEU head

Former Brexit department chief says leaving EU without a deal is not in UK’s interest

The public should be worried about a no-deal Brexit, the former top civil servant at the Department for Exiting the European Union has said.

In his first interview since retiring three months ago, Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at DExEU, said: “I think everybody should be worried about what happens in a no-deal situation. We would be taking a step into the unknown.”

He told the BBC’s Panorama programme that while Brexit planning in the civil service was in good shape, leaving with no deal, which is one of the options favoured by the Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson, would be “fraught with difficulty”.

Panorama, which airs on Monday night, also revealed accusations that the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, tried to silence the Road Haulage Association (RHA) over Brexit plans, and concerns in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that Brexit could be an opportunity for recruitment by paramilitary groups.

There were about 16,000 civil servants working on Brexit when Rycroft left his job before the first scheduled day of departure from the EU on 29 March.

But he said: “That [number] doesn’t mean … there won’t be an impact from Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, because that is a very major change and it would be a very abrupt change to our major trading relationship.

“It’s not in the UK’s interest to have no deal. It’s not in the EU’s interest to have a no-deal.”

Rycroft’s warning came as Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said it would be a “serious error” to assume no deal would not happen.

One of the biggest dangers Ireland faces, he said, was “the boy who cried wolf effect, whereby people and business assume that because a disorderly Brexit was averted in March and April the same will happen in October”. He added that Northern Ireland’s economy would be seriously affected.

The PSNI’s Brexit chief told Panorama that Brexit could provide a recruitment opportunity for the New IRA and other dissident paramilitary groups.

“We know that the New IRA and other groups continue to recruit people and we believe that Brexit provides an opportunity for them to encourage people to recruit,” said Tim Mairs, an assistant chief constable of the PSNI.

The New IRA said it was responsible for the killing of the journalist Lyra McKee earlier this year. It also claimed responsibility for a car bomb outside Derry’s courthouse in January and letter bombs sent to Britain in March. Its members murdered two prison guards, David Black in 2012 and Adrian Ismay in 2016.

Mairs said he was concerned Westminister did not take the threat of smuggling seriously enough.

Potential price differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland created by tariffs could create “new opportunities” for organised crime groups to exploit.

Smuggling and counterfeit production of alcohol and cigarettes in Ireland has attracted criminal gangs from around the world.

“We would see, traditionally, connections between some of those groups and more violent groups,” Mairs said. “The potential impact of a no deal on the economy in Northern Ireland is significant and that would, in our view, present potentially significant security concerns moving into the future.”

Panorama, which broadcasts at 8.30pm on BBC1, also heard about a voicemail left by Grayling on the phone of Richard Burnett, the head of the RHA.

Grayling told him: “I’ve got to say how very disappointed I am. I had intended to involve you closely in the planning over the next few months, but issuing a press release straight after meeting like that makes it much more difficult for me to do that.”

Burnett said he felt Grayling was “trying to silence an industry that’s trying to help government, guide them”.

He added: “My sense of that message was – either shut up or you don’t engage.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said it continued to work with the RHA but it was “extremely unfortunate when details of private conversations held in confidence are made public in a press release”.

The Irish cabinet will meet on Tuesday to discuss ramping up no-deal planning again with questions expected on how it could avoid infrastructure on the border while protecting the EU’s single market.

Source: The Guardian

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