‘Thousands of troops on standby’ as no deal Brexit planning steps up a gear

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Thousands of soldiers are being put on standby and £2 billion will be distributed to government departments after the Cabinet agreed to step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit in the final 100 days before the UK leaves the EU.

Ministers agreed to step up the Government’s work dramatically to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, which will see tens of thousands of businesses contacted directly urging them to take action. The Scottish Government responded by announcing it was looking at new routes to bring in supplies of medicines and other essentials in case the flow of goods through Calais and other main ports breaks down.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Picture: PA Wire

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Picture: PA Wire

Last night the SNP joined other opposition parties in lodging a motion of no confidence in the Government. It came after the Labour Party stopped short of formally seeking a vote to try and collapse the Government.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused Jeremy Corbyn of wasting time on a “gimmick”, although the joint effort with the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens is unlikely to be granted parliamentary 
time for debate by the Government.

“It is clear the Prime Minister’s tactic has been to run down the clock and deprive Parliament of any alternative to her deal,” Mr Blackford said.

“Jeremy Corbyn seems happy to let her – presumably to avoid having to make a decision on a second EU referendum.

“We want this motion to succeed, but if it doesn’t Labour’s only excuse for not backing a second referendum will be removed.

“Either way, if the official opposition won’t do its job, the real opposition will.”

At a marathon cabinet meeting yesterday that saw 25 ministers give their views, it was agreed to implement all the Government’s no-deal plans despite bitter divisions over whether leaving the EU without a deal would be acceptable.

Several ministers are understood to have signalled they would resign in the event of a no-deal, including work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, who is reported to have told colleagues: “Just because you put a seat belt on, it doesn’t mean you should crash the car.”

In the House of Commons, defence secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that 3,500 soldiers would be put on standby to assist in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Civil servants will work through Christmas on preparations, Downing Street revealed.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “Cabinet agreed that with just over three months until our exit from the European Union, we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations.

“This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no-deal plans.

“Citizens should also prepare in line with the technical notices issued in the summer and in line with further more detailed advice that will now be issued over the coming weeks.”

A £2bn no-deal contingency fund will be handed out to the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and other Whitehall departments.

Emails will be sent to 80,000 businesses that are particularly vulnerable to the potential imposition of customs duties and regulatory checks, highlighting official advice.

Food supplies could be hit, with price rises affecting the poorest in society, Scotland’s Brexit secretary Michael Russell told MSPs in a Holyrood statement.

The Scottish Government activated its own emergency resilience response measures, while the police are preparing for “civil contingencies”.

Mr Russell warned a no-deal scenario would cause “irreparable damage” to the country and society. The Scottish Government, including Transport Scotland, is working with ports and other parts of the supply chain to “fully assess the impact and identify what can be done to mitigate disruption”, he said yesterday.

He added: “It’s our aim to secure the best flow of essential goods into Scotland using existing routes or developing new ones.”

Plans are also being developed to deal with the supply of medicines, medical devices and the workforce for health and social care.

Mr Russell insisted a “no-deal Brexit” was not yet inevitable. But he said: “As a responsible Government, we cannot wait any longer. The consequences and risks are too pressing and too severe.

“The Scottish Government is ready to operate Brexit arrangements at very short notice, but will continue to build preparedness and resilience.”

Mr Russell added: “Whilst this government will do everything we can to prepare, we must not let anyone believe we can do everything.

“The nebulous approach of the UK Government to decision making on Brexit has meant that it is impossible to know when these plans might need to go into effect.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said it was testament to the Government’s “failure” in talks with the EU that was “spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to prepare for a no-deal Brexit that is rejected by Parliament and many of those sat around the Cabinet table”.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the decision to ramp up no-deal preparations was “psychological warfare”.

“The Conservative Government are attempting to scare MPs, businesses and the public with the threat of a no-deal,” Mr Cable said.

l With additional reporting by Scott Macnab