British Prime Minister Theresa May has cut her Cabinet ministers’ Christmas break short to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit, as the March 2019 UK–European Union divorce deadline looms.
Members of the British Parliament are normally scheduled to return to work Jan. 7, but May has told her ministers to meet Jan. 2, cutting into their Christmas recess, to press ahead with preparations for all eventualities—including a no-deal crash-out.
Stephen Barclay, May’s Brexit secretary, will lead the Cabinet meeting, according to the Financial Times.
The accelerated preparatory gathering recalls a Dec. 18 ministerial meeting that ended with the announcement of measures such as setting aside space on ferries to ensure a regular flow of medical supplies and keeping 3,500 armed forces personnel ready to support the government’s contingency plans.
One minister anonymously cited by The Telegraph, however, said the meeting is “all about show, really [and] to prove that we are pulling out all the stops to prepare for the worst.”
Barclay said earlier that although the government was taking steps to prepare for a no-deal scenario, the “priority is to secure a deal—that hasn’t changed.”
“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,” he said.
‘Not Where We Should Be’
May’s move to cut short her ministers’ break seems also to acknowledge complaints that the government hasn’t done enough to counteract Brexit’s biggest threats.
“Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes, rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward,” the heads of Britain’s five biggest business lobby groups said on Dec. 18.
“The lack of progress in Westminster means that the risk of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is rising,” said the bosses of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, and the main manufacturers’ organization EEF.
The five business groups said the government’s preparations to ensure a smooth transition in the event of a no-deal scenario is doomed to fail.
“It is clear there is simply not enough time to prevent severe dislocation and disruption in just 100 days,” the groups said, according to the report. “This is not where we should be.”
‘Put Aside Our Differences’
May has yet to win the support of a deeply divided Parliament for the deal she struck last month with EU leaders to maintain close ties with the bloc. She backed out of a vote on her Brexit deal two weeks ago, after MPs debated it for three days and it became increasingly clear that it would get a thumbs-down.
The prime minister has been putting pressure on parliamentarians to back her plan, in part by accentuating the threat of a no-deal departure.
Michael Gove, Britain’s environment secretary, is said to be “petrified” of a no-deal Brexit, according to The Telegraph. He is said to believe Britain’s departure from the EU without a deal would be chaotic and hit the country with severe food shortages.
May penned an article in the British tabloid the Daily Express calling on the Tories to “put aside our differences” as the “vast majority of people” want politicians to move on from Brexit to concentrate on other issues. She said it’s time to “dispense with the titles of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain,’ and instead find common ground and focus on what we can achieve together.”
Christmas is a time “to put aside our differences and focus on what really matters,” she said.
“Now, two and a half years after the referendum, it is time for us as a country to do the same.”
Britain’s exit from the EU has been set in law to take place at 11 p.m. (local time) on March 29, 2019.
Failure to agree on a Brexit deal would mean that a departure would be abrupt.