Brexit: cabinet meets to discuss ramping up plans for no deal
Cabinet ministers are expected to agree plans to significantly ramp up no-deal planning, allocating money from a £2bn contingency fund to departments such as the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Ministers will be presented with three options at a meeting on Tuesday morning, to wind down preparations, keep them at a similar level or step up preparations, one cabinet source said, with the latter almost certain to be chosen.
Some cabinet ministers believe it is time to show more central command in no-deal planning. Previously, departments had been given some freedom to decide when and what they spent.
The environment secretary, Michael Gove, is among those who have been allocating the most resources, recently advertising for 90 staff for an EU exit crisis centre to respond to emergencies following a no-deal Brexit.
Defra, along with the Home Office and the Department for International Trade, are to get the most significant budgets for no-deal preparations.
Several ministers are expected to push for no deal to become Whitehall’s “central planning assumption.”
The issues are not solely financial but also relate to decisions over whether to take civil servants off important domestic priorities, one cabinet minister said. “Do you take civil servants off the social care green paper, for example? That’s the choices in front of us,” the minister said.
The communities secretary James Brokenshire said on Tuesday that it was “right and proper” for no-deal planning to be stepped up.
“We have been taking no deal seriously for some considerable period,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend otherwise that we are stepping up our preparations for no deal. Although, frankly the way to avoid that, as I’m sure others would say very clearly, is having parliament voting to secure that deal.”
The cabinet meeting marks the first steps in an attempt by May to persuade rebellious Tory MPs that the alternatives to her Brexit deal are worse before the meaningful vote in the week of 14 January.
May wants the increasingly serious no-deal preparations to dominate the Brexit discussion at cabinet, even though ministers worried about the stalled negotiations with Brussels are openly canvassing alternatives if her deal is voted down next month.
In the Commons on Monday, May told MPs that a chaotic no deal would happen unless they voted for her deal, or parliament decided to abandon Brexit altogether.
The prime minister said rejecting her deal would “risk the jobs, services and security of the people we serve” at the price of “turning our backs on an agreement with our neighbours that honours the referendum and provides for a smooth and orderly exit”.
May also told MPs that negotiations were continuing between the UK and the EU, saying she was seeking “further political and legal assurances” over the unpopular Northern Ireland backstop, in an effort to demonstrate that it was temporary.
However, European commission officials in Brussels said that no further EU-UK meetings were taking place. “The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible – we will not reopen it. It will not be renegotiated,” a spokesman said.
May is set to be embroiled in another Commons row on Tuesday after the government refused to allow time to debate a non-binding no-confidence vote in her leadership as prime minister, put down by Labour. Eurosceptic Tories and the DUP have said they will back the government.
Labour deliberately chose a form of words that was different to a formal “no confidence vote” in the government – which would be required to begin the process of trying to force a general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.
The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, said a full motion of no confidence would be tabled “when it’s clear to the country the government has failed decisively”.
“It is still a question of when, not if, we move to confront the government with a full vote of no confidence,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
A Downing Street source said: “We won’t allow time for what is a stunt. The FTPA applies if Labour wants to put down a motion under the terms of that.”
Brokenshire said the motion was “not responsible opposition” and said it was “gamesmanship” from Labour.