Chancellor Sajid Javid will unveil a £1 billion boost to spending for no-deal this week as ministers respond to orders from Downing Street to “turbo-charge” preparations.
It came as Downing Street confirmed there would be no face-to-face meetings between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU leaders, despite invitations from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, until they agreed to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement and abandon the Irish border backstop.
A spokeswoman indicated Mr Johnson believed Brussels would blink first in the Brexit stand-off. “He has been clear that the backstop will be abolished,” she said.
“He remains confident the EU will stop claiming that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be changed, but until that happens we must assume there will be a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and the government’s central focus is preparing for that.”
Speaking in Scotland on his first visit north of the Border, Mr Johnson tried to distance himself from comments by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, who said at the weekend the government would “operate on the assumption” the EU would refuse to concede.
And Mr Johnson said the UK would be “reaching out” and was “not going to be aloof or wait for our friends to come to us”.
But the intensity of the government’s focus on no-deal preparations was confirmed yesterday with the first meeting of a new Cabinet Exit Strategy committee, known as XS, which will be chaired by the Prime Minister, but was led in his absence by Mr Gove.
Mr Gove will lead another committee on a permanent basis, aimed at providing daily updates on overall Brexit preparations to ministers and officials.
The ‘daily operations’ group, codenamed XO, will operate out of the room that normally hosts Cobra, the UK’s emergency situation committee.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab – one of the members of the XS – said the 2016 referendum result was an instruction to leave the EU with or without a deal. “The mandate certainly wasn’t to leave the EU if the EU let us, it was an in/out referendum and we made clear, those on the campaign, that we should strive for a good deal, but if that wasn’t available, that we should go on and make a success of Brexit,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
Speaking in Scotland, Mr Johnson said: “My assumption is that we can get a new deal, we’re aiming for a new deal.
“But, of course, Michael is absolutely right that it’s responsible for any government to prepare for a no-deal if we absolutely have to.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was “disgraceful” to spend the money on advertising for a “totally avoidable” no-deal Brexit while “four million people are in deep poverty”.
“Boris Johnson knows no-deal will cost jobs, but the Tories only care about the wealthy elite who fund them,” he said.
SNP Treasury spokesperson Alison Thewliss said a £100m advertising campaign was a “shameful waste of taxpayers’ cash”. “Boris Johnson has no mandate in Scotland,” she said. “We didn’t vote for Brexit and we didn’t vote for this Tory government.
“With public money being thrown down the drain, the Tories must explain why Scottish taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for a Brexit we do not want.”
Mr Johnson’s failure to contact Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar since taking office was branded “discourteous and offensive” by Sinn Fein yesterday.
In recent times, incoming UK prime ministers have placed a call with their Irish counterpart on the first day of assuming office.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill accused Mr Johnson of “snubbing” Mr Varadkar.
“I would judge that it is highly discourteous that the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not engaging with the Taoiseach,” she said. There was speculation that a phone call between the two leaders could take place last night.