With just 100 days until Brexit, UK ministers met on Dec. 18 to ramp up preparations for Britain’s potential “no-deal” crash-out of the European Union. No-deal means there would be no transition, so the exit, set in law as 2300 GMT on March 29, would be abrupt.
Preparations include setting aside space on ferries to ensure a regular flow of medical supplies and keeping 3,500 armed forces personnel ready to support the government with its contingency plans.
But British business groups say the idea that “no-deal” can be managed is not credible.
“Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward,” the heads of Britain’s five biggest business lobby groups said.
“The lack of progress in Westminster means that the risk of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is rising,” said the statement y the bosses of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, and the main manufacturers’ organization EEF.
The business leaders fear additional checks on the post-Brexit UK-EU border will clog ports, silt up the arteries of trade, and dislocate supply chains across Europe and beyond.
“Firms are pausing or diverting investment that should be boosting productivity, innovation, jobs and pay, into stockpiling goods or materials, diverting cross-border trade and moving offices, factories and therefore jobs and tax revenues out of the UK,” the business groups said.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney had earlier said leaving the EU with no transition could be akin to the 1970s oil shock.
Pro-Europeans fear Britain’s exit will weaken the West amid growing assertiveness from Russia and China. It weakens Europe’s economy and removes one of its only two nuclear powers.
‘Not Where We Should Be’
May has yet to win the support of a deeply divided parliament for the deal she struck last month with EU leaders to maintain close ties with the bloc.
Failure to agree an alternative Brexit course deepens concerns that the United Kingdom will drop out of the world’s biggest trading bloc without a deal.
The world’s fifth largest economy now faces three main choices: agreeing a new last-minute deal, halting Brexit or crashing out with no deal.
The lobby groups said businesses were now triggering contingency plans to deal with the expected chaos, though hundreds of thousands had yet to start planning.
“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,” said a statement from the collection of business lobbyists.
The five business groups said the government’s preparations to ensure a smooth transition in the event of a no-deal scenario are doomed to fail.
“It is clear there is simply not enough time to prevent severe dislocation and disruption in just 100 days,” the groups said, according to the report.
“This is not where we should be.”
Priority: ‘Secure a Deal’
At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, ministers stressed May’s deal with Brussels remains the top priority and is the best alternative to a no-deal departure.
However, according to The Daily Mail, they said they were determined to prepare for “every eventuality.”
“Cabinet agreed that with just three months until our exit we have reached the point where we need to ramp up those preparations,” May’s spokesman said.
“We will set in motion the remaining elements of our no deal plans.”
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said, “The Government’s priority is to secure a deal—that hasn’t changed.
“But alongside that, as part of our continuation of preparing for no deal, a responsible Government needs to ensure that we are ready for that default option—which we don’t want to happen—but we are ready in the event that it did happen.
“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.”
‘Just a Bad Dream’
Theresa May’s government has insisted all along that there would be no going back from Brexit, but as the likelihood of failure to win approval for her negotiated deal looms closer, political winds have been building behind a second referendum.
May had insisted that lawmakers have only two options: accept her negotiated deal, or “crash out” of the EU with no deal. But many lawmakers reject this binary choice, and believe that there is a third way.
The Good Law Project, one of the parties making a case for a second referendum, said in a statement, “It can be, legally, like the decision to Brexit was just a bad dream.”
The European Court of Justice, meanwhile, ruled on Dec. 10 that if the UK chose to back out of Brexit, it could do so unilaterally, without needing a nod of approval from other EU states confirming Britain would be welcome back.
The European Commission, meanwhile, is publishing the legislation needed to ensure continuity in eight sectors on a temporary basis, the BBC reported.
Those areas cover data protection, plant and animal health, customs, climate policy, selected 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.
Britain voted to leave the EU by a margin of 51.89% to 48.11% in a referendum in June 2016.
The UK is scheduled to leave on 29 March 2019.
Reuters contributed to this report.