May faces down critics but 'no deal' Brexit chaos looms
British Prime Minister Theresa May faced down her Conservative Party critics and got roars of approval Wednesday, even as warnings mounted about the disruption that could be unleashed if Britain leaves the European Union without a divorce deal.
May tried to shore up her besieged leadership with a speech to her party's '1922 Committee' of backbench lawmakers. Many of them oppose her attempts to strike a Brexit agreement with the EU, and some Conservatives have called for her to be replaced.
May made a call for unity to the dozens of legislators who packed a wood-panelled room at Parliament in London.
Lawmaker Michael Fabricant said May had urged the party to "hang together" as negotiations with the EU reached their endgame, and many in the room had responded with approval. Journalists in the corridor outside could hear loud table-thumping at regular intervals during May's speech.
Rather than the lion's den that some had predicted, "it was a petting zoo," Fabricant said.
The meeting came as the United Kingdom's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, said smugglers andother organised criminals were likely to exploit gaps in border enforcement in the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit.
The International Air Transport Association also warned there could be "chaos for travellers" if backup aviation plans weren't put in place quickly.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but London and Brussels have not reached an agreement on their divorce terms and a smooth transition to a new relationship. The stalemate has heightened fears that the UK might leave without a deal in place, leading to chaos at ports and economic turmoil.
In its report, the National Audit Office said that political uncertainty and delays in negotiations with the EU have hampered preparations for new border arrangements, and the government is now racing to bolster computer systems, increase staffing and build new infrastructure to track goods.
The office said 11 of 12 major projects may not be delivered on time or at "acceptable quality.
"Organised criminals and others are likely to be quick to exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps in the enforcement regime," it added.
IATA, the international airline trade body, called for urgent planning by Britain and the EU to ensure "the uninterrupted continuation of air connectivity" - in other words, to keep planes flying - and to maintain safety and manage border controls.
Director General Alexandre de Juniac said failure to put such measures in place "could mean chaos for travellers and interrupted supply chains.
"A backstop contingency plan to keep planes flying after March must be published, and quickly," he said.