Brexit will halt large infrastructure projects says National Audit Office chief

Sir Amyas Morse speaking at the Institute for Government

In a concerning development for the infrastructure sector, the auditor general of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse has said that billions of pounds of projects will need to be scrapped by the government as a result of a “tidal wave” of pressures due to the UK’s impending Brexit.

Morse, the head of Whitehall’s official spending watchdog, said that the government should treat leaving the EU as an emergency event and claimed that many government departments would be forced to decide which plans and schemes should be suspended or cancelled outright.

Speaking at the Institute for Government last week, Morse claimed that key infrastructure projects like Hinkley Point C, a third runway at Heathrow and HS2 would have to be reassessed as the government makes up its mind on which projects can be shelved. Morse also said that projects like Crossrail 2 and the Northern Powerhouse strategy would also need to be re-examined.

“It’s a tidal wave coming up the beach,” he said. “It is an emergency. If we don’t get it right, it will affect our economy and standards of life in this country. To say we are going to carry on and do everything we did before, I just don’t think that’s going to be sustainable,” Morse said. He claimed that each government department will have to conduct a “stocktake” to ensure that Whitehall has the capacity and money to deal with the challenges of Brexit.

Morse claimed that Brexit would mean that government resources, including civil servants, IT professionals and legal advisers, would be inevitably directed at managing the UK’s exit from the EU and away from delivering major infrastructure projects. Given that he is the man with a statutory responsibility to scrutinise all public spending, Morse’s comments will be concerning to many in the infrastructure sector.

Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, said Morse’s comments were unhelpful, betrayed a lack of confidence and were a short-term approach. “I have to say that Sir Amyas Morse’s comments are not helpful and can only breed more uncertainty about the UK economy at a time when we need to be showing confidence to the world,” Ogunshakin said. “If the UK economy is to thrive in a post-Brexit environment then these infrastructure projects will be more crucial than ever before.”

“A short-term approach that only focuses on the difficulty of delivering these projects alongside Brexit betrays a lack of confidence in our country and industry to deliver. This is totally unjustified. Infrastructure provides a strong base to rebuild and reposition our economy outside the EU and it would be unwise and illogical to consider cancellation of any major infrastructure projects in the pipeline as this can only send a very negative message to potential foreign direct investors.

“If the prime minister is to deliver on her agenda of building the British economy and sharing out the proceeds of growth more equitably then these infrastructure projects must go ahead. ACE will continue to push the benefits to our country of these projects when we meet with ministers,” he said.

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