Britain’s government intensified preparations on Tuesday for the possibility the United Kingdom could leave the European Union in 101 days without a deal, urging thousands of businesses and millions of households to make sure they are ready for the worst.
With the country’s departure set for March 29, it remains unclear whether U.K. lawmakers will approve the divorce deal the government negotiated with the EU. The alternative, a “no-deal” Brexit, risks plunging the economy into recession and touching off chaos at the borders.
“The government’s priority remains to secure a deal, but we need to recognize with 14 weeks to go, that a responsible government is preparing for the eventuality that we leave without a deal,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said.
Members of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet agreed to activate all of the government’s no-deal plans and advised the public to prepare for disruptions. Ministers insisted the steps were sensible precautions.
“Just because you put a seat belt on doesn’t mean that you should crash the car,” Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said.
Some 3,500 troops will be on standby to help deal with any disruptions in the event of a “no-deal,” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said. The contingency plans also call for public-service announcements to guide individuals on issues ranging from bank card payments in the EU to travelling with pets.
Businesses will be sent a 100-plus page online pack to help them get ready. E-mails to 80,000 of those most likely to be affected will be sent over the next few days.
Opposition politicians said no amount of preparation could sugar-coat the effects of a chaotic Brexit.
“This is the reality of a no-deal Brexit: soldiers on the streets, medicines being stockpiled in the NHS [National Health Service], and airports and ferry terminals grinding to a halt,” Labour Party lawmaker Ian Murray said.
Some manufacturers have begun stockpiling parts and goods in anticipation of post-Brexit hiccups to trade. But many businesses – especially smaller firms – have done little to mitigate the economic shock of leaving without a deal.
And big firms and business organizations have warned that uncertainty is already sapping investment and causing needless expense.
The British Chambers of Commerce said on Tuesday that economic growth and business investment in 2019 were likely to be lower than previously forecast because of the continuing uncertainty.
Director-general Adam Marshall said “the lack of certainty over the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU has led to many firms hitting the pause button on their growth plans.”
He said that “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.”
The British government and the EU sealed a Brexit deal last month, but Ms. May postponed a parliamentary vote on it last week when it became clear legislators would overwhelmingly reject it.
She tried to win changes from the EU to sweeten the deal for reluctant lawmakers, but was rebuffed by the bloc at a summit in Brussels last week. Ms. May’s authority has also been shaken after a no-confidence vote from her own party that saw more than a third of Conservative lawmakers vote against her.
Ms. May insisted on Monday she could win “clarification” from the EU to reassure skeptical lawmakers before Parliament votes on the deal during the week of Jan. 14.
Opposition legislators – and many members of Ms. May’s Conservative Party – remain opposed to the deal. But with Parliament divided on the way forward, the Brexit process is at an impasse.
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Official Opposition Labour Party, on Monday submitted a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister, accusing Ms. May of deliberately wasting time by delaying the vote, forcing Parliament to choose between her deal and no deal.
Mr. Corbyn’s move was symbolic: Losing the vote on such a motion would increase the pressure on Ms. May but, unlike a no-confidence vote in the government as a whole, it wouldn’t trigger a process that could lead to an election.
The government said it would not grant Parliament time to debate the motion, calling it a “stunt.” Other opposition parties accused Mr. Corbyn of making a futile gesture, and called on him to push instead for a vote of no-confidence in the government – which would have to be put to debate and a vote under parliamentary rules.
Labour lawmaker John Healey said the party would call a full motion of no-confidence “when it’s clear to the country the government has failed decisively.”
He said it was “a question of when, not if” the government would be challenged.