Take comfort from our Brexit plans says Theresa May as ministers talk up stockpiling

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, left, and Chancellor Philip Hammond
David Wilcock, David Young

The British public should take "reassurance and comfort" from government preparations for a no-deal Brexit, Theresa May has said after ministers suggested food and medicines would be stockpiled in case of shortages.

In an interview with 5 News on Wednesday, the prime minister did not deny stockpiling is happening, but said the government is being "responsible and sensible" while still trying to get a good deal with the European Union.

It came after British health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday he had asked officials to "work up options for stockpiling" by the pharmaceutical industry, and Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said the government would also take steps to ensure an "adequate food supply".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney had earlier said he does not "believe that Britain can afford a no-deal Brexit", and he hit out at "bravado" from Brexiteers who claim such a scenario would be acceptable.

Mrs May said: "Far from being worried about preparations that we are making, I would say that people should take reassurance and comfort from the fact that the government is saying we are in a negotiation, we are working for a good deal – I believe we can get a good deal – but... because we don't know what the outcome is going to be... let's prepare for every eventuality.

"This is not just about stockpiling. That concept, what it is, is about making sure that we will be able to continue to do the things that are necessary once we have left the European Union, if we leave without a deal."

Mrs May's comments came as a new poll suggests trust in her ability to handle Brexit is falling.

A Guardian/ICM poll found she had an eight-point lead over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over who could be trusted to negotiate a good Brexit deal, down from 16 points in January and 34 points before the 2017 general election.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said it is "sensible and responsible" that the government is working with industry to stockpile certain vital supplies for the event of a no-deal.

Speaking during a visit to the Bombardier aircraft factory in Belfast on Wednesday, he said:

"That's a sensible and responsible thing for a government to do and large businesses who are importing or exporting large volumes of products or produce will be making contingency plans, and we would encourage them to do so and work closely with them as they are putting those plans together."

Mr Hammond also ruled out extending the Article 50 process to give more time to negotiate withdrawal from the EU, after the Irish government said it would back such a move.

He said Parliament had legislated for the current exit date in March after suggestions an extension could help avoid the risk of a no-deal Brexit taking place.

It came as talks continued in Brussels, with a meeting between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Mr Raab scheduled for today.

Mrs May confirmed on Tuesday that she had taken personal charge of the negotiations, with Mr Raab "deputising" for her in Brussels.

Tory Eurosceptics have voiced concerns that Mr Raab's department has been sidelined by Number 10 and Mrs May's Europe adviser Olly Robbins, amid increasing speculation that divisions within the Conservative camp may result in no deal.

Mr Coveney confirmed Dublin is making contingency plans to cope with Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, but he told BBC Radio 4's Today that Dublin would "absolutely" back an extension if Mrs May's government asked for it.

Speaking outside Parliament in London after the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the tánaiste said a no-deal Brexit is not in British or Irish best interests, but he remains confident a deal will be reached.

He said: "We need to be focusing on the intensification of negotiations to try and find the solutions on a way forward as opposed to the sort of tough stance that some people feel the need to take in relation to saying 'well do your worst, we can deal with a [no-deal] situation'.

"That isn't going to solve this problem."

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