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UK prepares for no-deal Brexit

December 18, 2018

The government has "now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations" in case the UK crashes out of the EU. Without certainty, businesses in the UK are hurting, said the British Chambers of Commerce.

Sunset behind Houses of Parliament in London
Image: picture-alliance/Zumapress/S. Chung

The British government on Tuesday announced it would bolster preparations for a no-deal Brexit a day after Prime Minister Theresa May set a tentative date for her draft withdrawal deal.

"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 preparations," said May's spokesman. "This means we will now set in motion the remaining element of our no-deal plans."

Part of the preparation includes putting 3,500 British troops on standby to prevent public order from deteriorating and to assist in the potential chaos of a no-deal Brexit, said British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson.

After the meeting, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said preparing for a no-deal Brexit needs to be "much more of a priority for businesses up and down the country." Over the coming days, businesses are expected to receive emails with resources to prepare them in the event the UK crashes of the EU.

Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary and a close ally of May's, sought to stress that the preparations were a precaution in case the provisional deal between the EU and UK did not get through Britain's Parliament.

"Just because you put a seatbelt on doesn't mean you should crash the car," Rudd said. 

Read more: No Brexit renegotiation, Angela Merkel tells Bundestag

Businesses floundering

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said that business investment this year had fallen sharply due to uncertainty about Brexit, predicting 2019 economic growth of 0.1 percent of GDP, down from a previous forecast of 1.2 percent.

"The lack of certainty over the UK's future relationship with the EU has led to many firms hitting the pause button on their growth," said BCC director-general Adam Marshall. "With just over 100 days to go until the UK leaves the EU and no clear road ahead, businesses are having to take action, delaying or pulling hiring and investment plans and, in some cases, moving operations elsewhere in order to maintain hard-won supply chains."

Read more: Opinion: Britain, you haven't got time

Brexit dominates EU summit

Dead deal?

May is under pressure from British lawmakers to move up the vote on her draft Brexit deal from mid-January to before the holiday recess. She angered MPs last week when she postponed a vote on her draft deal after she realized she would not have enough votes to push it through parliament.

MPs, including some within her party, have accused her of stifling debate about other options, most notably a second referendum. On Tuesday, 53 business leaders described May's deal as dead and urged her to take it to a public referendum, according to British media.

"If parliament cannot agree on any form of Brexit urgently, we, as entrepreneurs writing in a personal capacity, call on the prime minister to take her deal to the British people," wrote the business leaders, who included Richard Sykes, who chairs the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Alex Chesterman, who founded property search engine Zoopla, among others.

May has been trying to portray the choice as one between her government's agreement with Brussels and leaving with no arrangement at the end of March. Analysts believe she hopes that opposition MPs — almost all of whom fervently oppose a no-deal exit — might eventually support her government's position as the lesser of two evils. So far, though, none have indicated a willingness to do so.

Read more: 'Scotland wants to trade as freely as possible with Europe'

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ls/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)