Fri | Jan 18, 2019

UK ramps up 'no-deal' Brexit preparations amid impasse

Published:Wednesday | December 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Pro- and anti-Brexit demonstrators wave their placards and flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, on Tuesday, December 18.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May.
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Britain's government ramped up preparations Tuesday for the possibility that the United Kingdom could leave the European Union (EU) in 101 days without a divorce deal - putting soldiers on standby and warning thousands of businesses and millions of households to get ready for the worst.

With the country's departure set for March 29, it remains unclear whether British lawmakers will approve the divorce agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government has negotiated with the EU.

The alternative, a 'no-deal' Brexit, risks plunging the British economy into recession and touching off chaos at the borders.

"The government's priority remains to secure a deal, but we need to recognise with 14 weeks to go, that a responsible government is preparing for the eventuality that we leave without a deal," Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said.

Members of May's Cabinet agreed to activate all the government's no-deal plans and advised the public to prepare for disruptions. Ministers insisted the steps were sensible.

"Just because you put a seat belt on doesn't mean that you should crash the car," Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said.

Some 3,500 troops will be on standby to help deal with any disruptions, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said. The contingency plans also call for public service announcements to guide individuals on issues ranging from bank card payments in the EU to travelling with pets.

Businesses will receive a 100-plus page online package to help them get ready. Emails to 80,000 of the most likely to be affected companies will be sent over the next few days.

 

DOZENS OF WARNINGS

 

The British government has already published dozens of papers advising of possible no-deal disruptions to the economy and daily life, saying businesses could face red tape at the border, consumers could see higher credit card fees, and patients could endure delays to medical treatment.

There was even a warning that Britain could be at greater risk from falling space junk, because the UK will no longer receive data from the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking programme.

The government has drawn up plans to charter boats to bring in essential goods in case supplies are disrupted. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that "I've become the largest buyer of fridges in the world" in order to stockpile medicines.

Opposition politicians said no amount of keep-calm-and-carry-on preparation could sugarcoat the impact of a chaotic Brexit.

"This is the reality of a no-deal Brexit: soldiers on the streets, medicines being stockpiled in the NHS (health service), and airports and ferry terminals grinding to a halt," Labour Party lawmaker Ian Murray said.

Some manufacturers have begun stockpiling parts and goods in anticipation of post-Brexit hiccups to trade. But many businesses - especially smaller firms - have done little to mitigate the economic shock of leaving without a deal.

The British Chambers of Commerce said Tuesday that economic growth and business investment in 2019 were likely to be lower than previously forecast because of the uncertainty over Brexit.

Director General Adam Marshall said businesses were "delaying or pulling hiring and investment plans and, in some cases, moving operations elsewhere in order to maintain hard-won supply chains".

The British government and the EU sealed a Brexit deal last month, laying out the terms of the UK's orderly departure and establishing an extendable transition period to give the two sides time to reach a permanent, new trade relationship.

But May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal last week when it became clear that legislators would overwhelmingly reject it.

May insisted Monday she could win "clarification" from the EU to reassure sceptical lawmakers before Parliament votes on the deal in the week of January 14.