Thousands of troops have been put on standby and ferries booked to deliver emergency food and medicine supplies across the English Channel as Britain braces itself for a no-deal Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet overnight agreed to release $3.5 billion in funds as the Government began ramping up plans for a no-deal exit from the European Union on March 29.
A no-deal exit without any customs or immigration agreements in place would likely cause enormous queues at the English and European air and sea borders, paralysing the movement of people, food, medicines and other supplies.
The Cabinet has put 3500 armed personnel on standby to be deployed in case of chaos in the days before and after March 29.
Space on ferries is being reserved to ensure urgent supplies such as food and medicines could get into the UK, and businesses will be warned to start making their own plans to protect import and export supply chains if a deal cannot be struck in the next 100 days.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said it was the Government’s “continued duty to prepare for every eventuality, including a no-deal situation”.
“These are the actions of a sensible Government to ensure people are prepared,” the spokesman said.
He stressed that delivering Mrs May’s proposed deal that she had agreed with the European Union remained the Government’s top priority, and the best way to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU without a customs and people movement deal.
The Parliament will not vote on the deal until the week of January 14, after Mrs May withdrew it from the House of Commons fearing it was going to be roundly defeated.
Eurosceptic MPs are concerned the deal’s “Irish backstop” provisions, which seek to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, would keep the UK locked into EU laws for years with no way out.
It would also require the UK to pay about $68 billion in fees to the EU for the current customs arrangements to stay in place during the transition period – due to start after March 29.
Time is fast running out for the country to prepare for a no-deal and Cabinet ministers have been pressuring Mrs May to release emergency funds and prepare for a cliff-edge departure.
“Cabinet agreed that with just over three months from our exit from the EU, we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations,” the spokesman said.
“This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no-deal plans. Cabinet also agreed to recommend businesses ensure they are similarly prepared enacting their own no-deal plans.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the defence force would “have 3500 service personnel held at readiness, including regulars and reserves, in order to support any government department on any contingencies they may need”.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay urged MPs to pass Mrs May’s deal.
“Parliament needs to back the deal because the consequence of not doing so is we risk the default of no-deal and a responsible government must prepare for that eventuality,” he said.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has been warning that a no-deal Brexit would cause the British pound to nosedive 25 per cent, unemployment to rise to 7.5 per cent and inflation to soar by 6.5 per cent under a worst-case scenario.
His projections – which critics dismissed as “Project Fear” – warned house prices could plunge 30 per cent and commercial property prices by almost 50 per cent.