Issue Briefs

Confusion in London as no deal Brexit crisis looms

Confusion in London as no deal Brexit crisis looms

Graham Bardgett

December 19, 2018

Picture this: some British troops have now been put on standby, as the leaders of UK industry warn they are watching the unresolved Brexit crisis in horror. With just 100 days before Britain is due to leave the EU, the Defence Secretary of State Gavin Williamson told Parliament he had already placed 3,500 troops and reservists on standby to help in any contingencies.

British business leaders warn about no planning

The heads of British business organizations criticized politicians for focusing on in-fighting rather than preparing for Brexit, warning that there is not enough time to prepare for a no-deal scenario. At Westminster the Government’s Cabinet met Dec.  18 to ramp up preparations for a no-deal departure scenario.

With fears of medication shortages in Britain’s National Health Service, leaders of industry issued an unprecedented statement. In a joint announcement, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, manufacturers’ organization the EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors said: “Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward. The lack of progress in Westminster means that the risk of a no-deal Brexit is rising.”

Meanwhile, the EU is to push ahead with its planning for Brexit, including a possible scenario in which there is no deal, with the European Commission set to publish legislation to ensure continuity in some sectors on a temporary basis

Political infighting

The Scottish Nationalist Party and other opposition parties tabled a vote of no confidence in the UK government. But it is understood the government only has to give time to motions tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, with Jeremy Corbyn having so far only tabled a motion of No Confidence in Mrs May.

Prime Minister Theresa May is urging the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to back her Brexit deal at a summit in London. But in Northern Ireland there is still no functioning Assembly after it collapsed in January 2017, and it is there that the Border with the Irish Republic has become the crunch issue.  The Republic’s Prime Minister and leaders of the EU insist there can be no renegotiations on what has already been agreed.

A second referendum?

And in Britain, two former Prime Ministers, Conservative and Labour alike, have called on Mrs May to hold a second Referendum to see if the mood of the people has changed since the summer of 2016. At the time, the country was divided. Scotland and Northern Ireland in majority votes decided to Remain in the EU while England voted to Leave.

Modest contingency plans

In the run up to Christmas the Commons Public Accounts Committee of MPs said the government had not done enough to secure the supply of medical equipment in a no-deal scenario. The government said it had sent letters to 140,000 businesses, urging them to trigger their no-deal contingency plans as appropriate. It is also distributing 100-page information packs.

With the warning that this is just too little, too late, the five business groups, which represent hundreds of thousands of UK firms, said that because of a lack of progress, the government “is understandably now in a place where it must step up no-deal planning”. But they said: “It is clear there is simply not enough time to prevent severe dislocation and disruption in just 100 days.” The business groups said that instead of investing money and boosting productivity, companies were now having to divert precious capital for “no-deal” contingency planning. They also warned: “There are also hundreds of thousands who have yet to start – and cannot be expected to be ready in such a short space of time.”

EU plans for Brexit

The European Commission is publishing the legislation needed to ensure after Brexit continuity in eight sectors affecting EU-UK business and other activities on a temporary basis. Those areas cover data protection, plant and animal health, customs, climate policy, some specific financial products and the rights of British people living in the European Union. If there is no Brexit deal, these will apply from 29 March until the end of 2019 at the latest.

The UK and the EU have agreed on a withdrawal agreement – or “divorce deal” – and also they have agreed on a political declaration outlining ambition for future talks. But all this needs to be voted by the UK Parliament for it to come into force. However, a vote by MPs on the deal scheduled for 11 December was postponed by Mrs May until mid-January, after it became clear her deal would be rejected by the House of Commons.

Graham Bardgett is a Global Policy Institute Fellow. He has reported for the Los Angeles Post Examiner and Baltimore Post Examiner and is a former BBC Radio News sub-editor in London and Veteran reporter of the Northern Ireland Troubles and Peace Process. He had five years on the news desk of BBC Northern Ireland, nine years as a security reporter on the Belfast Telegraph, four years as Ireland staff reporter for the Daily Mail, and was a correspondent for the Financial Times, Daily Mirror, Sunday Express, and Irish Daily Mail. During his career he has also reported from Berlin, Luxembourg, and Rome, and carried out public affairs critical incident consultancy work in Kazakhstan and in London. He had four years with PwC international accountants and consultants; and was previously a UK Government Higher Executive Press Officer.

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.