The government is now operating “on the assumption” the UK will leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, according to Michael Gove.
The Cabinet Office minister, who was put in charge of no-deal planning by Boris Johnson last week, repeated the new prime minister’s mantra that the UK would exit on October 31, “no ifs no buts”.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Gove said the cabinet had a “new clarity of mission”, as the chancellor Sajid Javid prepared a spending blitz to prepare for such a scenario.
Gove said: “The EU’s leaders have, so far, said they will not change their approach – it’s the unreformed withdrawal agreement, take it or leave it.
“We still hope they will change their minds, but we must operate on the assumption that they will not.”
Gove said cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill had created a new, unified Whitehall structure to coordinate action across departments and accelerate decision making across government, with planning for no deal now a “number one priority” for the government.
Other preparations will include “one of the biggest peacetime public information campaigns this country has seen”, Gove said, “so that citizens, communities and businesses can prepare for what will happen if there is no deal”.
He said: “Government is preparing, but so must many others. From taking your pet abroad, to ensuring freight can cross the channel smoothly, there will be new approaches required.”
The Sunday Times also reported that Gove was one of a six-strong so-called “war cabinet” convened to deliver Brexit on the Halloween deadline “by any means necessary”.
As well as Gove and Javid, the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Brexit secretary Steve Barclay and attorneygeneral Geoffrey Cox will join Johnson to plot the country’s course out of the EU in the coming months. It has been reported that Johnson has instructed Gove to chair no-deal meetings seven days a week until Brexit is delivered. The line up of the cabinet commmittee has been confirmed by government this morning.
Gove’s comments came as the Institute for Government warned that government faces a heavy workload to be ready for a no-deal Brexit.
The think tank said that to be ready for a no-deal exit, the government needs to kick-start its own preparations by moving thousands of civil servants from their day jobs into operational centres and starting extensive communications to business.
Ministers who are new in post should not rip up existing no-deal plans and policies, and despite the communications drive the government cannot assume businesses are ready for no deal. Indeed, they may be less ready for no deal in October than in March, the report warned, as it has similarly warned about the civil service.
A no-deal exit will drain Whitehall’s capacity, with an estimated 16,000 officials likely to be working on Brexit by the autumn. Numbers are likely to rise further after 31 October in the event of no deal.
Joe Owen, IfG's Brexit programme director, said: “Delivering Brexit is the number one priority for the new prime minister. But after a no deal, his problems would not evaporate overnight. Whitehall will still be working flat out on Brexit for months, with many areas of work extending for years.
“Negotiations with the EU would still be required – no less complicated than if there was a deal. Parliamentary showdowns would be inevitable. All his political bandwidth would be spent on Brexit issues instead of the domestic agenda he wants to pursue.”