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The government has stood down an army of 6,000 civil servants who had been preparing for a no-deal Brexit, at an estimated cost of £1.5bn.

The civil servants who had been seconded from elsewhere will now return to their normal duties, but there is no clear role for an estimated 4,500 new recruits after article 50 was extended until Halloween.

More than 16,000 civil servants in total have been working on Brexit.

The Labour party’s Hilary Benn said it was a “costly price” to pay for Theresa May’s belligerent insistence of keeping a no-deal on the table.

“It was important to plan for all contingencies, but this is the huge cost of the prime minister repeatedly saying: ‘My deal or no deal’ when she knew that leaving without a deal was not in the national interest. This is one example of how Brexit is proving to be very costly for our country,” said Benn, chair of the influential Brexit select committee.

The Cabinet Office made the decision to reverse the no-deal plans at a meeting on Thursday morning.

“In common with the rest of government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect. This morning, at a meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary, we agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way,” said a letter leaked to Sky News.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “As a responsible government, we’ve been preparing for over two years to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal. In light of this week’s developments, departments will make sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of this work is progressing given that the date we leave the EU has changed, but we will absolutely continue to make all necessary preparations.” Read more

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