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Thousands of troops put on standby and 300 back-up plans implemented as the Cabinet amps up No Deal Brexit planning

With exactly 100 days to go until exit day, Theresa May’s senior ministers agreed to trigger the Government’s emergency plans “in full”.

The dramatic move is a bid to heap pressure on the EU to give in to the PM’s fresh pleas to improve the draft Brexit deal so MPs agree to vote for it.

More than 300 back up plans – drawn up over the last two years – are now being implemented, including the urgent despatch of 80,000 emails to businesses who export to the EU.

The public were also warned to look out for fresh Government instructions soon about potential travel delays to Europe that could create Easter holiday chaos.

As the No Deal war footing decision raised Brexit tensions in Westminster yet further yesterday;

  • It sparked a fresh revolt from moderate Tory MPs and ministers, some of whom threatened to try to bring down their own Government rather than allow the UK to crash of the EU without a deal,
  • Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed for the first time he had put a brigade of 3,500 troops on short readiness for No Deal emergency work, such as traffic jam control or driving lorries.
  •  The Cabinet discussed ripping up Parliament’s timetable to sit over weekends and holidays in a race against time to pass at least four full new Acts to make No Deal possible.
  • The UK’s five leading business groups issue a joint call today on all MPs not to go ahead with “a disorderly ‘no-deal’ Brexit”.
Times Newspapers Ltd10
The troops are ready for emergency work such as traffic jam control and lorries driving
AP:Associated Press10
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the Cabinet must look united around the No Deal threat to send a strong signal to the EU

It was also revealed that Christmas leave was cancelled for thousands of civil servants so they can carry on working on preparations on all contingencies.

And No10 said the Government’s emergency civil contingencies committee will meet to monitor the work, under the codename Operation Yellowhammer.

Revealing the landmark Cabinet decision, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said no deal work will now become “an operational priority within government”.

Mr Barclay said: “The Government’s priority is to secure a deal, that hasn’t changed.

“A responsible Government needs to ensure that we are ready for that default option which we don’t want to happen.

“At Cabinet today we agreed that preparing for No Deal will be an operational priority within Government.

“We will see that tempo increase in the coming weeks.”

As The Sun revealed, Mr Barclay also rammed home the message to business to trigger their own no deal plans immediately as “much more of a priority”.

Fears are growing that only a small percentage of UK firms are ready for the emergency option

He implored: “We need to get over to business that this is something they need to prepare for, as it is a matter of 14 weeks until we leave the European Union.”

But there was also anger among business bosses that ministers are refusing to offer the nation’s six million firms – most of them small – any cash help or tax breaks to plan.

While sparking delight among Tory Brexiteers, the dramatic announcements immediately ignited a fresh revolt from Tory moderates.

Former business minister Nick Boles threatened to try to bring down his own Government to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Tory MP for Grantham Mr Boles tweeted: “I owe my constituents and my colleagues total clarity about my position.

“If at any point between now and 29 March the government were to announce that ‘no deal’ Brexit had become its policy, I would immediately resign the Conservative whip and vote in any way necessary to stop it from happening.”

During a tense three hour Cabinet meeting in No10 to authorise the new footing, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd also implored her colleagues never to implement the no deal plan.

In a signal she may resign before carrying out the nuclear option, Tory leadership hopeful Ms Rudd told the table: “Just because you put a seat belt on doesn’t mean you should crash the car”.

She also urged other senior ministers to consider job losses in their constituencies under no deal as well as win support from Labour MPs to ensure a smooth Brexit, insisting its time “to put country before politics”.

But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back to insist he was concerned that the EU had picked up on Cabinet members’ “noises off”.

Instead, he told the whole table they must look united around the no deal threat to send “a strong signal” to Brussels to climb down and agree to Theresa May’s deal compromises.

Former Tory Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith insisted the Cabinet action will turn the screw on the EU, telling Sky News: “What they need to understand is that the UK has a plan to leave should they not agree a deal”.

Justice Secretary David Gauke became the first Cabinet minister to say he would resign rather than back a no deal policy, and the PM’s own de facto deputy David Lidington has issued the same threat in private.

Speaking out, the UK five business groups beg the Commons’ 650 MPs to halt a no deal as they insist “the future course of our economy will be in their hands”.

The bosses of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry manufacturers’ organisation EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors say: ““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.

“The suggestion that ‘no-deal’ can be ‘managed’ is not a credible proposition.”

Mr Hammond doled out the next tranche of no deal spending.

The extra cash – for 2019/20 – totals £2 billion and will help 25 government departments ramp up their preparations for crashing out of the EU without a deal in March.

Money has been prioritised for new border and customs operations and gearing up UK trade policy.

The five departments getting the biggest cash injections are the Home Office with £480 million, £410 million to Michael Gove’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs brief, £375 million to HMRC, £190 million to the Business Department and £128 million to International Trade.

The additional money takes the total spent on Brexit preparations since 2016 to £4.2 billion.

The Chancellor said last night: “The PM’s deal is the only way to deliver on the referendum while protecting jobs, businesses and prosperity.

"I’ve worked with departments so they have the resources to prepare as we leave the European Union, including our borders, trade policies and support for businesses.

"But a responsible government prepares for all contingencies and that is why we’re stepping up no deal planning.”

The European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator also slammed the Foreign Secretary for talking up the prospect of a no deal Brexit.

MEP and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt said: “Those, like Jeremy Hunt, who glorify a no-deal Brexit are totally irresponsible.

“There is no such thing as a ‘managed no-deal.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he has become the world’s biggest fridge buyer as ministers ramp up no deal Brexit preparations.

The NHS boss is snapping up 5,000 cooler units so he can stockpile six weeks of medicines.

Mr Hancock told BBC Newsnight: “I’ve become the largest buyer of fridges in the world. I didn’t expect that”.

He added: “We’ve instituted full no deal planning within the NHS already, and I would like to see the whole of government going to that position because it’s the responsible thing to do”.

A total of £10million is being spent to help the Department of Health store drugs and medical supplies in warehouses.

The money can’t be clawed back if Britain does leave the EU with a deal.

When he was first appointed to the Cabinet earlier this year, Mr Hancock declared he was also now the legal owner of the world’s largest collection of fax machines thanks to the NHS’s outdated practices.

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