The ACBs: the Administrative Consequences of Brexit?

by Colin Talbot and Carole Talbot

Most of the debate around Brexit focuses of the big policy issues.

What tends to get ignored is the impact it will have on the UKs “machinery of government”.

Some of these impacts are fairly obvious, some much less so. Some are purely regulatory, others administrative and some a combination of both. But taken together they amount to a seismic shift in the machinery of British Government.

Some functions currently carried out at EU level are not replicated at the UK level and will have to be created from scratch.

The most obvious example is the negotiation of separate trade deals for the UK and the creation of the new Department for International Trade. The new Department will be responsible for multiple trade deals with (amongst many others) the USA, Canada, Japan, India, China, Brazil, South Africa and of course the EU27 – the latter presumably in partnership with the also newly created Department for Exiting the EU?

There will be many others. Ian Dunt in his excellent book “Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?” suggests some current EU agencies where the UK will have (re)create at a national level: European Court of Auditors; European Data Protection Agency; Education, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency; Executive for Small and Medium-sized Businesses; Innovation and Networks Executive Agency; European Research Council; European Agency for Safety and Health at Work; European Aviation Safety Agency; European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control; European Fisheries Control Agency.

Some of these functions probably already exist in slightly different forms – but will need expanding as a consequence of Brexit (see next section) but others will requite whole new functions being created.

Others are already carried out at both levels but will have to be massively expanded to cope with the UKs separation from the EU.

Regulation of medicines and medical devices is an obvious example, which is agreed at EU level but which the UK currently contributes to. After Brexit unless there is a deal to remain part of the European system the UK will have to do the whole job itself. The European Medicines Agency is currently based in London and will almost certainly leave with Brexit.

Others are already only carried out at UK level but will have to expand.

Border controls of goods and people already exist but will have to be massively expanded once we are out of the EU. For goods that means Customs, especially if we are out of the Customs Union (which seems inevitable), which will need much more detailed inspection. For people it will mean a massively expanded immigration service (see below re EU nationals resident in the UK) to cope with the EU visitors who would now need more stringent checks.

Some will have to be moved around within the UKs system of government as a result of Brexit.

At the moment things like agricultural policies and subsidies and fisheries policy are dealt with at the UK level. It is assumed that these would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, resulting in new regulatory and administrative functions having to be created there, whilst the existing functions would also need to be maintained at national level for the rest of the UK.

And some completely new tasks are being created that will result in whole new functions or sub-capacities having to be built.

At the moment non-UK citizens resident in the UK wish to apply for leave to remain go through a byzantine application process clearly design to deter them. If – as seems possible – the UK negotiates a deal whereby the EU (non-UK) citizens get a special deal to remain they will still have to be processed – possibly for all 3 million or so of them. This would almost certainly entail a whole new system just to deal with this problem created by Brexit. The Financial Times reported this could amount to 140 years worth of residency claims at the current rates of processing. Clearly large resources would have to be devoted to clearing this, or a very much simpler system used, or both.

Hopefully (although we’re not optimistic) this could help avoid the sort of problems identified in Colin’s earlier blog post Brexit and EU academics in the UK – breaking up is hard to do

Help Us With Monitoring the Changes

These changes are so widespread that no one group of researchers could hope to collate and analyze them in full, so we’re thinking about trying to ‘crowd-source’ at least a mapping exercise to identify all the possible changes.

So this is an appeal for examples of changes to the machinery of government that will become necessary because of Brexit.

Answers on a comment, or email(s), please!


3 thoughts on “The ACBs: the Administrative Consequences of Brexit?

  1. Hi Colin

    Two things immediately spring to mind. First, the uncertain fate of non-UK EU citizens in the civil service. I have met a number of mid-to-senior level civil servants in Whitehall who would fall into this category. According to this report only four departments know how many non-UK EU nationals they employ:

    Second, in the White Paper we’ve just heard that the UK Government believes that the Article 50 process will necessarily take us out of Euratom as well as the EU, because of the messiness of the treaty arrangements. This is widely expected to create massive challenges for policy and regulation in the area of nuclear safety and security and will create a lot of extra work to be done, both in terms of negotiating post-Brexit relationship and in terms of putting in place new arragements. It also leaves uncertain the status of the Joint European Torus in Oxfordshire.

  2. There’s a degree of flexibility with the impact on British Standards. BSI seem keen to continue co-ordinating with European groupings but this will need to be negotiated. This comment is based on the BSI statement available at

    There is ongoing discussion of standards, amongst other issues affecting the construction industry, but this is generally beyond paywalls so it is difficult to get an objective assessment of the balance of opinion on whether we should and whether we will continue to use Euro Codes and Euro Norms.

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