London, United Kingdom – The UK government has ramped up preparations for a no-deal departure from the European Union amid widespread criticism of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
In a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, ministers approved £2bn ($2.5bn) worth of funding for government departments to help them prepare for the United Kingdom leaving the 28-member bloc without a formal agreement on the terms of its withdrawal.
All departments must also move to fully implement their emergency no-deal contingency plans, the cabinet agreed. Thousands of letters will also be sent to businesses throughout the country advising them how to prepare for such a scenario.
“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 [no-deal] preparations. This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no-deal plans,” a spokesperson for May said.
The UK is scheduled to depart the EU on March 29 next year, almost three years after 52 percent of Britons voted to quit the bloc during a divisive referendum held in June 2016.
British PM sets date for Brexit deal parliamentary vote
Economic forecasts suggest a no-deal departure could have a catastrophic impact on the UK’s economy.
The Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, has warned Britain’s gross domestic product could shrink by up to eight percent in such a scenario. The government, meanwhile, has forecast a potential economic slump of more than nine percent in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.
No-deal fears escalate
Fears of a no-deal departure have been heightened by widespread parliamentary opposition to May’s EU withdrawal plan, brokered after months of arduous negotiations with her European counterparts.
At the heart of the contention is the plan’s “backstop” proposal, a safety net provision that guarantees no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event that post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU prove unsuccessful.
The clause proposes that the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, remain in a customs union with the EU “unless and until” the bloc agrees there is no prospect of a return to a hard border.
Critics in the UK parliament argue the measure could tie Britain into the EU’s orbit indefinitely.
On Monday, May announced a vote on her deal would take place in the UK’s lower chamber House of Commons in the week beginning January 14 next year. She pulled a previously scheduled ballot on the plan last week, acknowledging it would have been roundly rejected by MPs.
In a bid to assuage concerns, the 62-year-old travelled to an EU Council summit in Brussels on December 13 – a day after surviving a confidence vote in her leadership triggered by disgruntled Eurosceptic members of her ruling Conservative Party – to seek reassurances from European leaders on the backstop.
Brexit: May rebuffed by EU leaders in Brussels
In a speech to parliament on Monday, May said she had won private assurances from EU officials at the summit that there was “no plot” to keep the UK in the backstop and that their intention was to avoid having to activate the safety-net provision.
Leader of the main opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, however, accused May of “achieving nothing” at the EU Council meeting and leading the UK into a “national crisis”.
Corbyn also suggested May was trying to “run down the clock” as the UK’s EU departure date moves closer and tabled a motion of no confidence in the prime minister in a bid to force a vote on her Brexit deal this week.
Crucially, the motion did not call for a confidence vote in the government as a whole, meaning May’s administration is not obliged to set aside parliamentary time to debate it.
Other opposition parties – including the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats – have called on Corbyn to push for a no-confidence vote against the government as a whole.