LONDON (AP) — The British government on Tuesday rejected a leaked report claiming it has no coherent plan for leaving the European Union and may need to hire up to 30,000 civil servants to complete the country's exit from the 28-nation bloc.
The Times of London newspaper published a memo prepared by a consultant to the Cabinet Office claiming splits within Prime Minister Theresa May's team have delayed development of a negotiating strategy and that it may take another six months to come up with a plan.
The prime minister's office said "this is not a government report and we don't recognize the claims made in it."
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told Sky News that "I haven't seen any evidence of the kind of splits discussed" in the leaked document, which the government said was produced by an individual from an accountancy firm — identified in media reports as Deloitte. Deloitte had no immediate comment.
The Times said the memo was written by a consultant on his own initiative, not at government request.
The government says it will trigger two years of formal exit talks with the EU by March 31.
The memo, dated Nov. 7 and titled "Brexit update," says that "despite extended debate among (department) permanent secretaries, no common strategy has emerged."
It says this is partly because May is "drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself."
The document says individual departments are working on projects related to Britain's exit — 500 in all. It says "every department has developed a 'bottom up' plan of what the impact of Brexit could be," but "there is no prioritization and no link to the overall negotiation strategy."
The memo says May's government has little understanding of Brexit's implications for industry, and "the government's priority remains its political survival, not the economy."
"It may be six months before there is a view on priorities/negotiation strategy as the political situation in the U.K. and the EU evolves," the memo says.
May took office in July, after Britons voted to leave the EU. She had campaigned to stay in, but has promised she will deliver on voters' decision to leave. Her Cabinet contains both "remain" backers like Treasury Chief Philip Hammond and "leave" supporters including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
The government has declined to say what sort of deal Britain will seek with the EU — including whether it will try to keep Britain in the bloc's single market for goods and services, something many British businesses desire.
Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said that the memo was right to say that ministers "are in a mess over Brexit and do not have a plan."
"Brexit is the most important issue facing Britain for generations and it is simply not good enough for the government to give mixed messages and cause unnecessary confusion," he said.