Defra’s top civil servant has admitted she worries so much about the delivery of Brexit IT projects, it ‘keeps her awake at night’.
Clare Moriarty, the department’s permanent secretary, made the remarks when giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Defra’s Brexit preparedness.
MPs on the committee chose to examine the department’s preparations in the wake of a National Audit Office (NAO) report which found the risk of Defra failing to deliver all of its Brexit tasks in the event of a no-deal scenario was ‘high’.
Asked what worried her most about the department’s no-deal planning, Ms Moriarty said: “The thing we are very conscious of is we are managing a huge amount of risk.
“For IT systems, even if all the component parts work absolutely fine, it is not until you put the whole thing together and do the end-to-end testing that you find there are some issues.
“It is almost unheard of to do end-to-end testing without finding new issues, so the thing which keeps me awake at night is we cannot know until we have gone through this process what we will find.
“Even with all our resources focused on making sure we can catch problems early and fix them, I cannot guarantee there will not be something which gets through.”
Defra is currently working on 14 Brexit projects with some IT element, six of which require a new system to be built from scratch.
New-build systems will be needed for import notification, exports, chemical registrations, veterinary medicines authorisation, chlorinated gases and catch certificates for fish, with end-to-end testing beginning in January next year – just two months before Brexit day on March 29 2019.
Ms Moriarty was keen to point out the department had put in place contingency arrangements such as back-up IT systems or manual workarounds in case the new-build systems do not work properly.