Planning for the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement will be an “operational priority,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s government said on Tuesday.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said the government remains committed to securing a deal for Britain to leave the EU in March but “a responsible government needs to ensure that we are ready for that default option.”
“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,” Barclay told reporters after attending a meeting of the cabinet.
Amid strong opposition in parliament to her Brexit deal, May told lawmakers on Monday that a no-deal Brexit would bring risks to “the jobs, services and security of the people we serve by turning our backs on an agreement [with the EU].”
She said the government had already stepped up preparations for potential post-Brexit problems “such as the flow of traffic into different ports here in the UK.”
“Disruption will take place under no deal in the short term,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons, parliament’s main elected house.
“We want to take every step we can to mitigate that,” she said.
Speaking to Sky News early Tuesday en route to the cabinet meeting, pro-Brexit International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said it was “absolutely right that we step up no-deal planning now.”
“Not only do we need to prepare the country, but it’s also the best way that we will ensure that we will get a deal [from the EU],” Mordaunt said.
May faced a hostile reception from members of her Conservative party and opposition lawmakers on Monday after she refused to allow parliament to vote on her Brexit deal before a Christmas recess.
“The prime minister has cynically run down the clock,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, accusing May of leading the country into a “national crisis.”
Corbyn later tabled on motion of no-confidence in May, but the government is expected to ignore it since it is not obliged to allow a debate or what would merely be a symbolic vote on the vote.
He is under pressure from Labour and other opposition lawmakers to table a formal motion of no confidence in the government, which would require a vote.
May angered lawmakers on all sides by postponing the vote on her deal at the last minute last week, admitting she faced a crushing defeat.
She told parliament on Monday that she will hold the vote in mid-January, just 10 weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.
May said the government was using the time until January to “explore further political and legal assurances” with the EU on a controversial “backstop” arrangement to guarantee an open Irish border after Brexit.
But an EU official in Brussels said on Tuesday that “there are no further meetings planned from our side.”