Brokenshire says preparations for no-deal Brexit being stepped up

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire

Cabinet minister James Brokenshire said preparations for a no-deal Brexit were being stepped up in case Theresa May's plan is rejected by MPs in January.

"We have been taking [the prospect of] no deal seriously for quite some considerable period. It's not what we want to do, it's not what we still expect to do – because we want to see the deal secured, the vote through parliament – but I think it is right and proper that we maintain our work on preparing for a no deal, however reluctantly," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

The communities secretary would not be drawn on whether the cabinet would make a no-deal Brexit its "central planning assumption", stressing that "clearly it's not something the government wants to see".

He added: "There will clearly be consequences of a no deal in the short term. That's why we have been doing a lot of work in relation to, for example, the channel ports, why we have issued 106 technical notices now, why we are recruiting another 300 people for Border Force."

Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that Theresa May's position was now under threat more from pro-EU Tories than Eurosceptics if there was a full-blown confidence motion in the government.

"Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act I will always support the Conservative government, I will not vote a Conservative government out of office," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Rees-Mogg added: "I would have thought, actually, the prime minister is at greater risk in a vote of no confidence from people who see themselves as pro-EU within the party than from people who are Eurosceptic."

The MP, one of the ringleaders of the internal Tory effort to oust Mrs May, said: "I've had my vote of no confidence in her and I lost, and I'm not going to repeat the exercise. The prime minister is secure under the party rules for a year.

"I think to try and re-run something when you have lost it is not reasonable, it is not democratic."

Mr Rees-Mogg suggested that a "managed no-deal" Brexit was still an option if Mrs May's plan was rejected by parliament.

"There are more things that could potentially be done, but while this deal is still on the table they are very unlikely to be done," he said.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will update Brussels' top officials on the state of the process at a meeting today.

The College of Commissioners is also expected to step up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters in Brussels that leaders from the 27 remaining EU states had called for "speeding up" of Brexit preparations.

"There will be the discussion of the implementation of an emergency action plan for the commission," she said.

Mr Barnier would be present to "take stock of the latest developments on the UK side".

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt hit out at Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, calling his approach to Brexit "irresponsible".

Mr Hunt has suggested the UK could "find a way to flourish and prosper" if there was a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Verhofstadt said: "It is not the job of politicians to make the people they lead poorer, remove opportunities, rights and make lives more uncertain.

"There is no such thing as a 'managed no deal'."

Brexit secretary Steve Barclay said: "The government's priority is to secure a deal – that hasn't changed.

"But alongside that, 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."

The Brexit secretary said the "tempo" of guidance from government to businesses and households on how to prepare for a no-deal exit from the EU would increase.

"We need to get over to business that this is something they have to prepare for" with "a matter of 14 weeks until we leave the European Union", he said.

Mr Barclay said planning for a no-deal Brexit needs to be "much more of a priority for businesses up and down the country".

"The government's priority remains to secure a deal, but we need to recognise with 14 weeks to go, that a responsible government is preparing for the eventuality that we leave without a deal," he said.

Downing Street said that advice on no-deal preparations will be going out to households by various channels over the coming weeks.

Businesses will be provided with a 100-plus page online pack to help them prepare and emails will be sent out to 80,000 of those most like to be affected over the next few days.

Announcing the plans to step up no-deal preparations, Theresa May's official spokesman said: "Cabinet agreed that with just over three months until we 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.

"Cabinet also agreed to recommend businesses now also ensure they are similarly prepared, enacting their own no-deal plans as they judge necessary.

"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 coming weeks."

The PM's spokesman stressed that Cabinet agreed that the government's "top priority" remains delivering exit from the EU under the terms of the deal agreed with Brussels by Mrs May.

And he insisted that withdrawal under the PM's deal remains "the most likely scenario".

"Delivering the deal remains the government's top priority and our best mitigation against a no-deal scenario," said the spokesman.

"This is a sensible government ensuing that people are prepared for all scenarios."

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, welcomed the announcement and said: "Regardless of the politics we are 101 days away from Brexit, very close in business planning terms.

"It's crucial that businesses have their contingency plans firmly in place.

"We continue to work very closely with government to prepare for a range of different Brexit scenarios.

"The UK's ports, many of which already successfully handle large quantities of non-EU trade, are ready to provide a range of options for supply chains."

The body represents ports handling 75 per cent of seaborne trade but not Dover, which has been the focus of much of the attention on no-deal impact.

Labour Brexit spokeswoman Jenny Chapman said: "It is testament to the prime minister's failure in these negotiations that the government is now 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.

"A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for jobs, the economy and the border in Northern Ireland. It is simply not a viable option.

"Labour will work across parliament to prevent no-deal and ensure the public don't pay the price for this government's failure."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: "The decision to ramp up the no-deal pressure is psychological warfare. The Conservative government are attempting to scare MPs, businesses and the public with the threat of a no-deal.

"Theresa May is irresponsibly trying to run down the clock so that the only option is to support her discredited deal.

"It is time to stop playing political games with our future and take the issues at hand seriously. The only real way out of this deadlock is to hold a People's Vote, with the option to remain in the EU."

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