Brits warned to brace for a no-deal Brexit as Cabinet ramps up emergency planning
Brits will be given stark official warnings about the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit over the next few weeks, Downing Street has announced.
The announcement followed a marathon Cabinet meeting at which top ministers agreed to pump £2bn of extra spending into Britain’s planning for a no-deal exit, and moved to write directly to thousands of businesses urging them to start putting their own contingency plans into place.
Theresa May’s official spokesman said: "Cabinet agreed that with just over three months until our exit from the European Union, we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations. This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no-deal plans.
"Cabinet also agreed to recommend businesses now also ensure they are similarly prepared in enacting their own no-deal plans as they judge necessary.
"Citizens should also prepare in line with the technical notices issued in the summer and in line with further, more detailed advice that will now be issued over coming weeks."
He added: "There is going to be an orderly roll-out of this information to ensure that people are given the information in the right way and it has the maximum impact."
The extra cash unlocked by the Treasury today takes the total allocated to a no-deal Brexit to just over £4bn, with 126 technical notices on the potential disruption caused by a no-deal exit now published by departments.
Number 10 said all 320 contingency “work streams” on no-deal preparations were now active across Whitehall.
Civil servants from the Department for Exiting the European Union presented Cabinet with a paper setting out three possible options: maintaining no-deal planning at its current pace, stepping it up, or scaling it down.
More than 25 ministers took part in the discussion, with all of them agreeing that preparations must be ramped up.
As well as the direct warnings to the public, information from HMRC on customs, excise and VAT will be issued to all businesses in the country to help them prepare for changes at the UK border.
The latest moves come just over 100 days before the UK is set to leave the bloc, and as Mrs May races to secure last-minute guarantees from the EU in a bid to swing MPs behind her deal.
Speaking after the meeting, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: "The Government’s priority is to secure a deal - that hasn’t changed.
"But alongside that as part of our continuation of preparing for no-deal a responsible government needs to ensure that we are ready for that default option which we don’t want to happen but we are ready in the event that it did happen.
"That’s why at Cabinet today we agreed that preparing for no-deal will be an operational priority within government. But our overall priority remains to secure a deal."
It came as Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed that the more than 3,000 troops were now on standby to help departments with no-deal contingency planning.
He told the Commons: "We’ve as yet not had any formal requests from any government departments.
"But what are doing is putting contingency plans in place, and what we will do is have 3,500 service personnel held at readiness, including regulars and reserves, in order to support any government department on any contingencies they may need."
But Labour went on the offensive as the Cabinet meeting broke up, vowing to work with other parties to block a no-deal Brexit.
Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman said: "It is testament to the Prime Minister’s failure in these negotiations that the Government is now spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to prepare for a no deal Brexit that is rejected by Parliament and many of those sat around the Cabinet table.”
The opposition frontbencher added: "A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for jobs, the economy and the border in Northern Ireland. It is simply not a viable option. Labour will work across Parliament to prevent ‘no deal’ and ensure the public don’t pay the price for this Government’s failure."
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable meanwhile said Number 10 was guilty of using "psychological warfare" to try and spook MPs into backing Mrs May's deal.
He said: "The Conservative Government are attempting to scare MPs, businesses and the public with the threat of a no-deal.
"Theresa May is irresponsibly trying to run down the clock so that the only option is to support her discredited deal."