The government is prepared for a no-deal Brexit if it does not manage to finalise a withdrawal agreement with the European Union before March next year, Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, has said.
In his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham yesterday, Raab said leaving the EU without a deal was not “unthinkable”.
A no-deal scenario could cause “risks and potential short-term disruption”, he said, but the government would deal with any problems “in a calm and sensible manner”.
“When it comes to no deal, we’ve heard some lurid predictions from the prophets of doom. [People] claim planes will be grounded. That ports will be blocked. Let’s have some common sense here. Why on earth would any of these things happen?”
Raab went on to mock claims by pro-Remain politicians and campaigners that “no deal means patients won’t get their medicines, mobile phone roaming charges will go through the roof and space debris will fall from the sky.”
Raab’s own department has warned a no-deal Brexit could lead to shortages of food and medicine. In June, the Department for Exiting the European Union confirmed its officials had planned models for mild, severe and “Armageddon” no-deal outcomes, which included the possibility of severe food shortages in parts of the country.
Meanwhile Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said he has instructed pharmaceutical companies to stockpile medicines in preparation for a potential no-deal exit.
Last month the Institute for Government warned that time had run out for the government to complete its Brexit preparations and it would be unable to mitigate all of the negative consequences of leaving the EU without a deal. “Just a fraction” of government departments’ no-deal preparations were on track to be completed in time, it said.
But Raab insisted the government would be left with "no choice" but to leave without a deal if the EU insisted on membership of the customs union or European Economic Area.
He defended the Chequers Brexit blueprint, which has already been rejected by the EU.
"But our willingness to compromise is not without limits,” he added. “We are leaving the European Union in fact, not just in name.
"If we can’t obtain a deal that secures that objective, if an attempt is made to lock us in via the back door of the EEA and customs union [or] if the only offer from the EU threatens the integrity of our union, then we will be left with no choice but to leave without a deal,” he said.