Preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit should be "the top priority" for civil servants, Boris Johnson has told them in a letter. The PM said he would prefer to get a deal but the UK must leave the EU by 31 October "whatever the circumstances". Earlier Jeremy Corbyn had urged the UK's top civil servant to intervene to prevent a no-deal Brexit happening during a general election campaign.
The BBC Reports. It comes amid speculation MPs will table a no-confidence motion in the PM. It is thought opposition MPs could propose the vote in a bid to prevent the UK leaving the EU with no deal - leading to a general election being called. Mr Johnson has a working majority in Parliament of just one.
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In his letter to civil servants, Mr Johnson said he would "very much prefer" to leave with an agreement, but added: "I recognise this may not happen. "That is why preparing urgently and rapidly for the possibility of an exit without a deal will be my top priority, and it will be the top priority for the civil service too." Theresa May's Brexit deal has been rejected three times by MPs and, as things stand, the UK will leave the EU on 31 October whether it has agreed a new one or not.
Mr Johnson has urged the EU to make changes to the deal, but has said the UK must leave by this deadline with or without anagreement. The Insitute for government reported "No deal Brexit preparations" The UK’s no deal readiness is about more than just government – it means public bodies, individuals, and above all businesses taking action to prepare.
Preparations for a no deal exit have been taking place since the referendum in 2016. The government ramped up its preparations in summer 2018, when it started publishing a series of ‘technical notices’ on how public bodies, businesses and individuals needed to prepare for no deal. The EU’s preparations for no deal are another critical factor in determining how ready the two sides are for no deal. Will there be any legal gaps in the event of no deal?
The government originally said that it would need to pass several bills to manage the domestic impact of no deal. It has since passed bills on taxation, healthcare and road haulage. The remaining bills, including the Trade Bill, Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill, Immigration Bill and Financial Services Bill, do not need to have passed by 31 October but will all be needed in the weeks and months after no deal.
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The government passed the EU Withdrawal Act in 2018, which is necessary to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and copy EU law into UK law after Brexit to ensure continuity. But it also used the powers in the Act to pass hundreds of statutory instruments. Many of these are uncontroversial, as they simply remove references to EU institutions and other aspects of membership. The Government had passed almost all of the necessary statutory instruments by March 2019 and is expecting to have completed all the remaining changes – including some additional ones – by October.
How much progress has the government made on preparing for no deal?
The government has provided no comprehensive update on how far it has got on preparing for no deal. A government paper published in February 2019 said it was “on track for just over two-thirds of the most critical projects.” However, the report did not explain what those critical projects are, which ones are not on track, or what the government is doing to get them back on track.
In February 2019, the National Audit Office (NAO) published an updated assessment of the government’s preparations for the UK border in the case of a no-deal exit. The assessment found that the successful delivery of certain new IT systems needed for no deal is “in doubt”. It also found that Border Force has made significant progress on recruiting new staff needed to manage the border in the case of no deal.
Since a long extension to Article 50 was agreed with the EU in April, the government has not published any further assessment of the state of no-deal preparations.
Although since March preparedness has improved in some areas, where the government has been able to complete necessary projects or agreements, in other ways the UK is now less ready for no deal than it was before the original Brexit date: for example, key officials have left or changed jobs, while many businesses are reluctant to spend money replicating the short-term preparations they made previously.
The government needs to put in place the new systems, staff and agreements with other countries that will be needed once the UK is no longer part of the EU framework. The table below gives more detail on each area of government business: