Prime Minister Theresa May, who has just 28 days to convince rebellious lawmakers to back her Brexit deal, put the UK on high alert over the dangers of crashing out of the European Union without an agreement.
Her Cabinet ministers agreed Tuesday to implement “in full” plans for a no-deal break from the European Union, including 3,500 troops put on standby and 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) of funds made available for contingencies. Further warnings to voters and businesses will follow in coming weeks.
May has said she’ll put the terms she negotiated with Brussels to a vote in Parliament the week of Jan. 14, by which time her advisers hope enough lawmakers will have seen the danger of a no-deal split to back it. Authorities predict massive economic damage from leaving the EU without an agreement, including a 25 percent slump in the pound and house prices down 30 percent.
May is trying to persuade EU leaders to sweeten the Brexit deal, after she pulled a planned parliamentary vote in the face of anger in her own Conservative party. After a rebuff last week, she says she will keep talking to the EU. But now she also wants members of Parliament to be staring over the cliff edge when they vote.
The Treasury allocated the biggest share of no-deal funding to bolster border security, while the tax and customs office was given funds to employ 3,000 people.
The Cabinet also debated post-Brexit immigration policy, and as has become usual in the Brexit process, ministers were split.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid will set out the government’s plans on Wednesday. As a compromise between those who want to cut numbers and those who worry about the economic impact, he will announce a public consultation on whether migrants should have to earn over 30,000 pounds ($38,000) a year before they can be considered for entry as highly-skilled migrants, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Cabinet also sparred over how they should handle the possibility of a messy, no-deal exit from the bloc. As May’s spokesman was briefing reporters, details of the meeting started to leak.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt used the meeting to press her case for the government to embrace a no-deal outcome, and called for negotiations on a two-year “managed glide path” out of the bloc, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
That idea was slapped down by Justice Secretary David Gauke, who said a so-called managed no-deal Brexit is not on offer from the EU. Cabinet’s job is “not to propagate unicorns but to slay them,” he told colleagues, according to another official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd urged the Cabinet to consider the job losses that would result from a no-deal Brexit. Britain’s future would only be bright if it leaves with an agreement and urged ministers to put politics aside to build a consensus. While she did back stepping up contingency planning, she said it shouldn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Just because you put a seat belt on doesn’t mean you should crash the car,” Rudd said, according to another person familiar with the discussions.
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