The recruits will include specialists in finance, accounting, law, digital, project management and trade negotiation © FT Montage

Whitehall is planning to hire another 2,000 staff to deal specifically with Brexit in a sign of how its resources are being diverted towards the challenges of leaving the EU.

The Cabinet Office has already overseen more than 1,500 appointments since the EU referendum in June 2016 as the UK civil service gears up for the biggest administrative challenge for half a century.

Officials said a further 2,000 recruits were being haggled over by ministers, with departments still vying for their share of the extra personnel. They will include specialists in finance, accounting, law, digital, project management and trade negotiation and borders staff.

“Everyone is bidding for extra staff,” said one minister. “That’s why there’s a lot of frustration with the Treasury at the moment — everyone wants more.”

The government admits that there will be a further wave of hiring needed as Britain gets close to the exit day in March 2019, although the overall civil service headcount is still set to shrink further.

The size of the civil service has shrunk by 20 per cent since 2008 amid heavy spending cuts: from 525,157 to 419,399 at March this year.

The question of how many new workers will be needed in two years’ time depends on what kind of exit deal the government gets. The Home Office alone could need 5,000 extra border staff if the UK fails to strike any deal at all, according to the Institute for Government.

5,000

Extra border staff the Home Office might need if the UK failed to strike any Brexit deal

Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service, has described Brexit as the “biggest and most complex challenge the civil service has faced in our peacetime history”.

The figure for new appointments excludes policy jobs, where hundreds of roles are being filled through transfers from within the civil service’s existing headcount.

Some 750 policy experts are expected to relocate to the five main Brexit departments, the Department for Exiting the EU, the trade, business and agriculture departments and the Home Office — without any extra cash to replace them.

© Charlie Bibby/FT

Defra, the agriculture department, has brought in more than 400 extra staff to deal with Brexit: 80 per cent of its work is linked to EU regulation. Meanwhile, BEIS, the business department, is recruiting 500 new staff in the current financial year, as well as filling newly created internal Brexit roles.

That siphoning of “policy professionals” towards Brexit responsibilities has prompted unions to warn of a lack of resources for other ministries.

Many of the external hires have been into DEXEU, which now has sucked up about 450 staff, including a 40-strong “DEXEU Legal Advisers” group. Likewise, the newly created Department for International Trade now has nearly 3,200 staff.

The government announced £412m towards Brexit in the current parliament in last year’s autumn statement, mostly comprising funding for DEXEU and DIT. Another £250m for 2017/2018 has gone to other departments, such as the Home Office, environment and transport, for Brexit-related work.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA civil service union, said: “Brexit is only one pressure that the civil service faces, it is still being asked to deliver swingeing efficiency savings . . . it is having to do all this simultaneously.”

Mr Penman said that some of the messages from ministers about resources filled civil servants with “dread”, given the possibility of no deal.

“The impact on the civil service would be significant, particularly if there is no deal. We will only know if the prime minister is providing the funds that we need when we know the outcome of the negotiations.”

The civil service is carrying out “several hundred” Brexit-related workstreams to identify themes and decisions needed across government, according to the permanent secretary.

The Treasury alone has taken on 140 graduates in the autumn in its “biggest ever” recruitment drive, according to Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government.

“This is a classic cross-departmental project, but of unprecedented scope and importance,” Sir Jeremy has written. “Ministers have been clear throughout that important Brexit work will not be held back by a lack of financial resources.”

The permanent secretary is seeking to keep shrinking the overall civil service elsewhere, for example through the increased “digitalisation” of the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs.

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