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Up to 1,000 defence support workers could be redeployed to no-deal Brexit roles

Protesters participate in an anti-Brexit demonstration at City Hall in central Belfast, Northern Ireland October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By David Hughes, Press Association Chief Political Correspondent

A plan to redeploy up to 1,000 defence support workers to help cope with a no-deal Brexit is a sign of the "chaos and uncertainty" in Government, an MP has said.

A message, sent to staff in the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency, appeals for volunteers to change roles.

The note, obtained by the BBC, said it was "uncertain" what work would be required if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.

But it said redeployment in these circumstances would offer a "real development opportunity".

A Government spokesman said: "The Civil Service has the flexibility to deliver government priorities and deploy resources appropriately to do this.

"This includes departments sharing staff and working together on joint projects."

But Stephen Gethins, the SNP's Westminster spokesman on Europe, said: "As we edge closer to the disaster of Brexit, these latest revelations show that the chaos and uncertainty is all-consuming.

"The Government wants to divert 1,000 officials away from vital work supporting our armed forces, without the slightest clue what they're going to be doing.

"They're seeking volunteers to come forward to fill unspecified jobs, in unspecified places for an unspecified length of time.

"This is just in one branch of government, and likely to be replicated elsewhere, leaving big gaps in the capacity of the Civil Service which is still expected get on with the day-to-day.

"The UK Government's contingency planning for a no-deal is the very definition of too little, too late.

"It underpins the urgent need to rule out that eventuality, extend Article 50, for the UK Government to finally start listening and get realistic options back on the table which could command support from across the political spectrum. First among those should be another EU referendum."

DE&S is an arms-length body of the Ministry of Defence which manages projects to buy and support the equipment and services needed by the armed forces.

The leaked memo, issued by senior manager Neville Parton, said up to 1,000 staff might be needed for redeployment to support other government departments and local authorities.

"This provides a real development opportunity to take on a fresh challenge - developing new skills and experience," he wrote.

"It's currently uncertain what type of support might be required, for how long and where people might be required."

The memo suggested any redeployment should not last for not more than six months and the closing date was on January 25.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union which represents more than 1,000 DE&S workers, said: "It will stick in the throat of many civil servants that, despite being treated more harshly than other public sector workers on pay, they are being asked to bail the Government out of a situation entirely of its own creation.

"Ministers have also not been honest with the public as to what work in areas such as defence they will tell the Civil Service to stop doing in their quest for volunteers. The notion that there are large swathes of civil servants sitting around awaiting to be redeployed is fanciful.

"A no-deal Brexit should be ruled out by any responsible politician who recognises the damage it will do."

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