back to article We're doomed: Defra's having a cow over its Brexit IT preparations

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs isn't ready for a no-deal Brexit, and hasn't ensured new IT systems will be capable of dealing with future demand, the UK's spending watchdog has warned. In a report on Defra's progress in implementing Brexit, published today, the National Audit Office said the department …

  1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    When the wind blows…

    It's almost as if nobody warned us that this might happen.

    Still, I'm sure that diplomatic immunity will mean that there is still plenty of champagne over at Gournay Court for when the big day comes.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Why will DEFRA be needed?

    Post Brexit there won't be any Eu agricultural subsidies to distribute so farmers will be freed of all that red tape.

    There won't be any spare food to export, because we only grow 50% of the food needed and we certainly aren't going to be importing any of that filthy foreign muck once we take back control.

    Apart from organising the rounding up of the unemployed to work on the land I can't see the need for any government involvement.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why will DEFRA be needed?

      "I can't see the need for any government involvement"

      But, my dear fellow, the government sees the need for government involvement.

      You don't expect Sir Humphry to sit back and watch his department be emptied, now do you ?

    2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      Re: Why will DEFRA be needed?

      Heh!

      This encapsulates one of the biggest lies about Brexit: the "red tape" argument. The basis for the lie is that DEFRA (and its predecessors) have always been the ones that "managed" the programs, so that while general policy and funding stream definition (and funding) originated in Brussels, it went to DEFRA for implementation. And DEFRA drafted the forms and the instructions and put together the not-very-helpful help lines and so on.

      There is, of course, the argument that it will all be so much simpler with it all under one roof. I'm sure no readers here have any anecdotes that might contradict that...

  3. ukgnome Silver badge

    Hard Brexit NOW

    it's the only way

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have you considered how farming works in the EU? Do you understand the money that comes back to farmers in subsidies to ensure we all have food? (right or wrong I'm not debating subsidies here but take them away and there is no incentive to farm especially when all other EU farmers are being subsidised, then where do we get our home grown food from?)

      It's all well and good going for a "Hard Brexit" but at least understand some of the issues that need to be resolved before anyone can think of doing that. I'll be stocking up on some stuff before it happens, better to be safe than sorry.

      1. Len Silver badge
        Alert

        One could argue that, due to its sheer size, food security is less of an issue and the EU could do with less agricultural subsidies (not sure I'd agree but someone could make that argument). That is for the whole 28 countries, half a billion people strong EU.

        If anything, the UK urgently needs more agricultural subsidies for at least a couple of years. 40% of all our food is imported and the UK is looking at going from trade agreements with over 60 countries to zero. Both food imports and exports are going to be seriously affected for a couple of years so subsidising farmers to make the UK more self sufficient could be of strategic importance.

        That means that it helps to know who produces what (and who is fiddling what to claim subsidies they should not receive). That means we'll need a system to keep track of how many hectolitres of milk the cows of farmer X produce and how many kilos of sheep meat farmer Y produces on an annual basis.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          That means we'll need a system to keep track of how many hectolitres of milk the cows of farmer X produce and how many kilos of sheep meat

          I think you'll find it's now gallons of milk and pounds of meat, thank you very much.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          re: UK urgently needs more agricultural subsidies

          Isn't that going to make trade negotiations a touch tricky?

          We want to negotiate a trade deal with Johnny foreigner but want to stop them dumping the cheap products of their state sponsored industry destroying UK jobs.

          While at the same time we will be trying to export cheap subsidised food to them ?

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          it's the governments response to the obesity crisis

          don't say they're not thinking of you

    2. RegGuy1
      Mushroom

      it's the only way ...

      ... to totally fuck up this mess we are already in.

      Still, I've stockpiled my popcorn and it's getting very near the time to sit down and watch the fun.

      When's the Tory Party Conference? End of the month?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      is a UK gnome a localised Russian troll?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Hard Brexit NOW

      >it's the only way

      What a great idea. Let's have a referendum about if and see if everyone agrees.

      1. ukgnome Silver badge

        You are all a bunch of chumps if you don't want hard Brexit

        This liberal woolliness simply wont do

  4. Sir Loin Of Beef

    Why do I keep reading "If the UK leaves the EU"? Hasn't the decision already been made? What is stopping the government from announcing they are staying?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Politics has been termed the art of the possible. As the current omnishambles approaches the impossible, then there is some hope that some kind of face-saving climbdown can be arranged with the rest of the EU which parliament would have to approve. Cue apopleptic spittle from the ginger corner and relief from rest of the country.

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge
        Trollface

        Cue apopleptic spittle from the ginger corner and relief from rest of the country.

        Alternatively, there is a very hard Brexit, and you'll find yourself in a cattle truck taking you from Germany back to a suitable Channel port for forcible repatriation.

        Of course AFD might suggest more create ways of managing undesirables, but I'm probably invoking Godwin here.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Cattle Trucks to Germany

          Don’t worry, Jeremy Corbyn and momentum have those all arranged already.

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Alternatively, there is a very hard Brexit, and you'll find yourself in a cattle truck taking you from Germany back to a suitable Channel port for forcible repatriation.

          Tempting as that is, I already had permanent residence rights before I got dual nationality. And, as we all know, revoking residence rights can only be done to darkies.

          The rise of the AfD makes me sad to have seen it coming.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Omnishambles.

        As the current omnishambles approaches the impossible, then there is some hope that some kind of face-saving climbdown can be arranged

        You have no idea how carefully planned the omnishambles has been.

        The sole purpose was to demonstrate how Britain could not function without the EU.

        Why else was a total failure in every job she has been in in government manoeuvred into power, told to hold an election which she nearly lost due to listening to cynical policy advice while the media bigged up Jeremy Corbyn?,..

        The level of interference by the EU and by foreign powers in the affairs of this country, the total abandonment of truth common sense and probity shows that the EU and its supporters would rather destroy the united kingdom than let it leave.

        THE EU has declared war on the UK, for daring to ask for more...And people had better work out which side they are on before its too late.

        We are witnessing the ugly side of realpolitik, The ugly side of the EU and the ugly side of the Deep State as well.

        Grow up. The EuroKinderGarten walls have been breached, and the reality of what its made of is becoming apparent.

        1. John G Imrie Silver badge
          Happy

          people had better work out which side they are on before its too late

          I'm on the winning side.

          Viva l'EU

        2. Champ

          Re: Omnishambles.

          >THE EU has declared war on the UK, for daring to ask for more...And people had better work out which >side they are on before its too late.

          More? We already had significant concessions and opt-outs

          >We are witnessing the ugly side of realpolitik, The ugly side of the EU and the ugly side of the Deep State >as well.

          Your tinfoil hat has slipped.

    2. Len Silver badge
      Meh

      It says "if the UK leaves the bloc without a deal".

      Though a two year transition period is not a lot of time to get a completely new system up and running, trying to get it working by March next year (as would be required in No Deal scenario) is not going to happen.

  5. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

    Pfft. Only takes 5 minutes.

    https://twitter.com/andrew_lilico/status/1036532076043010048

    https://twitter.com/Sarf_London/status/1036900737484316673

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Does Brexit make a difference to DEFRA's IT? It's not exactly covered itself with glory before Brexit was happening. SNAFU.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I do see one advantage, from the politician's point of view. Given the general chaos of IT spending in the UK goverment, you will spend the next few decades hearing completely contradictory stories about how much Brexit actually cost, ensuring a fine revenue stream for the various rags that pretend to report on it.

      El Reg excepted, of course.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        I see another advantage, from the (Westminster) politician's point of view. They can more easily change policy to suit their political ends, which means more work for those maintaining the Defra (and other government IT systems). Unfortunately, it also will result in a rather big downside, Westminster politicians talking the talk but totally failing to deliver any real policy decision or provide sufficient funding for the policy to be effectively delivered and that is before we get on to the policy changes as ministers change jobs...

        We are seeing this now with Rees-Mogg, he wants everyone to believe that those paid to worry about the UKs future are totally incompetent, whilst his band of Conservative party nutters aren't, yet have yet to deliver anything meaningful that survives the first skim reading...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes it does. There are a hell of a lot of functions currently run at a Europe level which defra will now have to run. They need to find funding for, design, build and test these systems before next march.

      For the brexit wankers this is of course a trivial task. How hard can it be?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There are a hell of a lot of functions currently run at a Europe level which defra will now have to run.

        I'll bite. Perhaps you can explain all these super advanced Euro-systems that are so vital that our farmers can't grow stuff without them?

        1. Len Silver badge
          Happy

          That explanatory box on the side of the article is a good starting point. REACH, TRACES and EHCs are fairly important for UK farmers.

          REACH: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/reach/reach_en.htm

          TRACES: https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/traces_en

          EHCs: https://www.ukecp.com/export-health-certificates

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          A lot of the fertiliser used in this country is produced elsewhere in Europe. Without it crop yields will be lower. There have been various schemes in Europe to reduce surpluses, food "mountains", and we could increase cropped area, but we'd need to import more fertiliser. There were attempts to use sewage as fertiliser, with a process akin to composting, but the supermarkets refused to accept the food, and the British sewage systems, after around 150 years, have a problem with heavy-metal contamination.

          Farming also needs pesticides to control such things as crop diseases and insect pests, and that has a Europe-spanning manufacturing system, with a system for managing safe production and use. Some of the "traditional" alternatives, beloved of the 'organic' movement, are really nasty chemicals to handle and use. Some of the older insecticides have the same poisoning symptoms as nerve gases. Where is the necessary protective clothing made?

          And 10% increase in cropping implies 10% more work to be done, Cultivation, crop management with fertilisers and pesticides, harvesting, storage, and done by machines operated by skilled labour. Where are those machines? Where are those people. Run a combine harvester 10% more hours in the year, but it will need 10% more maintenance and repair work, 10% more spare parts, and many of those spare parts are imported.

          I've had to drive 250 miles in a day to get the specific bearing needed to fix a tractor. And I was lucky a new batch had just arrived in the country.

          We're damn good farmers in Britain and Europe. Some of the best in the world for crop yields. And this government is setting out to wreck the whole system that allows us to feed you. I've had idiots telling me "we can't grow that in England" for as long as I can remember, while I've been growing it.

          I doubt I shall starve, these idiots are going to cut of the supplies of medication I need. The last time we were this desperate was the winter of 1946-47, and this time we can't blame snow.

          Anyone want to put in bids for my potato ration?

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            >I've had to drive 250 miles in a day to get the specific bearing needed to fix a tractor. And I was lucky a new batch had just arrived in the country.

            Bet you are glad you're not using a John Deere...

            Farmers Thrown Under Bus By Own Lobbying Group in ‘Right to Repair’ Fight

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            >I doubt I shall starve, these idiots are going to cut of the supplies of medication I need. The last time we were this desperate was the winter of 1946-47, and this time we can't blame snow.

            Before my time, but the winter of 1962 was particularly bad.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1962%E2%80%9363_in_the_United_Kingdom

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        DEFRA is POOP

        Well DEFRA is full of all the ex-DECC 'climate change' woofters so of course its incapable of actually doing anything beyond holding its hands up in horror and virtue signalling.

        What should be done is to simply fire the whole department, appoint a new head who has some intelligence and common sense, and start again.

        Other departments - e.g. the agency responsible for nuclear regulation - are well on the way to a situation that can cope with any Brexit deal.

        The fact that DEFRA is not, shows how deeply incompetent a ministry it actually is.

        But then we knew that already, since the Somerset levels got flooded due to 'eco-managing' them instead of dredging.

        It is of course amusing to see the remoaner argument changing from 'Britain has almost total autonomy in the EU, to say that all the rules and regulations were made in Brussels is nonsense' to 'So many rules and regulations are managed by Brussels that we couldn’t possibly go it alone' . A real poopcorn moment.

        Doublethink in these ones strong is.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Maybe as a remoan wanker you could offer some advice

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Maybe as a remoan wanker you could offer some advice

          If advice had been listened to, we wouldn't be in this mess, would we?

    3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Trollface

      Does Brexit make a difference to DEFRA's IT? It's not exactly covered itself with glory before Brexit was happening. SNAFU.

      Well, now Slithy Gove is in charge of it, rather than those pesky experts (what do they know, eh?), I'm sure the department will go from strength to strength.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      before Brexit it could slip delivery dates and fudge requirements - it wasn't asked to make something actually work for everyone on day 1 (year 0).

  7. Adrian 4 Silver badge
    Holmes

    Well, duh

    Icon says it all.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's another 5-letter acronym agency that can help

    If your timelines & assumptions are all wrong call ICANN or - maybe not!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same old, same old

    Too many bureaucrats who only wanted a "high level" view of what was needed and too few willing to get down "into the weeds" of what it would take. Typical private sector conference table with 26 execs and managers, and good old Carl, who will do all the actual work -- including generating custom dumbed-doqn reports for his superiors -- standing at the back wall. Which really explains why "running government like a business" was such a good idea.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not to worry, there is a well defined brexit strategy - blame the remainers and move your money out of the UK.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, since most remoaners seem to approach Brexit with a Pvt. Fraser "we're all doomed" mentality, blaming them doesn't seem unreasonable.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...especially what won’t be ready by March 2019.

    Half the population?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Half the population?.

      Definitely.

      Think of the advantages.

      All the cultural Marxists - Gone.

      All the traffic on the M25 - Gone.

      Loads of housing available,

      All the unproductive public sector workers - Gone.

      All the people who hate their country - Gone

      All the people who don't want to work for a living - Gone.

      And the BBC essentially staffless. God how wonderful. No more frottage in celebrities coming, dancing!

  12. veti Silver badge

    This is... a not entirely unforeseeable aspect of the tragedy of Brexit.

    DEFRA, like for that matter every other gov't department both in the UK and in Europe, can't fully "prepare" for Brexit when no-one has the faintest idea of what, specifically, it's preparing for. And with negotiations still up in the air, and expected to come down to a traditional EU-style deadline-crushing intensive finale, no-one is going to know that until it's too late.

    If they'd gone to the other extreme - creating contingency plans to cover every possible outcome of the negotiations - they'd have been (rightly) castigated for wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on consultants planning for things that were never going to happen.

    The takeaway from this, apart from "let's shelve Brexit for at least ten years or so", is: don't have a referendum with a vague proposal. Negotiate and pass all the laws you need to first. Then the only question on the referendum paper is, "should these laws go into effect?".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ReL Remoaning stupidity

      DEFRA, like for that matter every other gov't department both in the UK and in Europe, can't fully "prepare" for Brexit when no-one has the faintest idea of what, specifically, it's preparing for.

      Well this is of course typical of the 'cant do' attitude that the EU has fostered in the public sector.

      On the other hand other departments HAVE managed to plan for every contingency, essentially by assuming they will have to go it alone.

      Unlike DEFRA they are adult enough not to pull the covers over their heads and say 'make it all go away, all we ever did was take Orders From Brussels, look forward to a fat retirement pension at 50 and make vacuous virtue signalling statements about the Need For Renewable Energy To Combat Climate Change and Conserving The Newt Popultio In Islington and How To Manage Farmland Ecologically So Its Guaranteed to Flood, by Neglecting Maintenance, and we don't know how to do anything else'

      Of course DEFRA is in a mess, It is a repository for failed ecologists cultural Marxists and utter star gazing incompetents,..

      Who have been drawing Big Money to let Eurocnuts do their jobs for them for years.,

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      I live in the sticks & so know a few farmers as plenty of them near by (my garden even borders a farm)

      According to them,DEFRA has a long history of being useless, so just business as usual

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    <government dept> isn't ready for a no-deal Brexit,

    I think that's a fairly accurate sitrep on all of them. But, but...

    <gollum>

    We wants it

    We needs it

    We must have hard Brexit.

    </gollum>

    I will guarantee one thing about Brexit

    Jacob Rees-Moggs company will make a shedload of cash out of it, either directly or through it's (newly opened) Dublin branch.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: <government dept> isn't ready for a no-deal Brexit,

      >Jacob Rees-Moggs company will make a shedload of cash out of it

      Interesting seeing the news and reading about the Hungarian governments breeches of the EU's core values:

      "Individuals close to the government have been enriching themselves, their friends and family members at the expense of Hungarian and European taxpayers. The Hungarian people deserve better."

      Seems as if the same charge can be levelled at the UK...

  14. David Roberts Silver badge
    Windows

    With the cynics here

    Including Dr. Syntax.

    DEFRA couldn't even manage to build an IT system to distribute EU subsidies to farmers and kept incurring fines for incompetence.

    Designs were not optimal - for instance assuming that all rural farmers had the same kind of fast Internet access available to the developers.

    If your current systems are red flagged, what are the chances of using the same resources to produce a speculative blue sky system against unknown rules? You are more likely to ease off on the current systems because they are unlikely to be fit for purpose post Brexit anyway.

    I am pretty sure that DEFRA are not alone here. Standard project management to keep quiet about your problems and hope some other part of the project is going to force a slippage and get blamed. Then agree to align your project with the new longer timescales.

    Personally, I suspect that the "hard" in hard Brexit reflects the times most IT systems will find themselves in. Will this be a licence to print money like Y2K? Or just an opportunity to build trade deals with non-EU service suppliers which include free movement in and out of the UK?

  15. nijam Silver badge

    I know we've heard "Brexit mean brexit" often enough, but what it actually means (hidden behind the laughable triviality of the phrase) is "brexit means 'no deal'", surely?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      > but what it actually means ... is "brexit means 'no deal'", surely?

      Well, the fat lady isn't due to sing for a while yet, so much will depend on the outcome of the current ruckus in the Conservative party, something we won't see until after the Conservative party conference...

      About the only given is that the credibility of Westminster has and continues to fall...

  16. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Trollface

    You had TWO requirements!

    1) Don't change the screens

    2) Make sure the app tier will scale

    Great idea at first scrum; "Lets skip the app tier and redesign all the screens so we have something to show management. What is someone asks what we're doing? Show them how many screens we've redesigned!"

  17. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    WTF?

    Whitehall denialism

    Simple. On the day Article 50 was invoked, a No-Deal Brexit was possible. So preparations should have started. They've had nearly 2 years.

    However, Whitehall, and a sizeable proportion of the Cabinet were (and still are) determined that Brexit should be as soft as possible, or not happen at all. Remember, Cameron expressedly forbade any such preparations whilst PM. So little or nothgin has been done.

    This is a kind of reverse brinksmanship. Instead of convincing the other side you can walk away, you convince the rest of your side that you cannot.

    Sheesh.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Whitehall denialism

      @Missing Semicolon - Remember remaining in the EU was both UK government and Conservative party policy until T.May's election, so there was no real reason for Cameron to do any preparation; other than to organise a referendum that would get the 'right' result. The real reason the (Conservative) government are in such a mess over Brexit is that they have put the preservation of the Conservative party at all costs above that of the nation.

      D.Cameron's real mistake was to attach any value to the current incarnation of the Conservative party; he should have put the knife in when he had the chance and so create the opportunity for a new party to once again rise phoenix-like from the ashes...

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