Government accused of using the coronavirus crisis to ‘quietly’ plan for no-deal Brexit

George Martin
·3 min read
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and the British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost pose for a photograph at start of the first round of post-Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier (right) meeting Britain's negotiator David Frost in March. (Getty)

The government has been accused of “quietly” stepping up planning for a no-deal Brexit amid the coronavirus crisis.

Ministers have reportedly started moving civil servants who were working on coronavirus-related tasks back to no‑deal Brexit planning, according to The Times.

The government’s XO (exit operations) no-deal planning committee, chaired by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, is also said to be meeting more regularly.

Labour MP Ruth Cadbury accused the government of “quietly” preparing for a no-deal scenario in a tweet on Sunday morning.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11:  Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove arrives at the Cabinet Office ahead of a government COVID-19 Coronavirus Cobra meeting on March 11, 2020 in London, England. Earlier today, the government pledged billions in its budget to help the NHS tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus and the Bank of England announced an emergency interest-rate cut to boost economic activity amid the economic pressure of the outbreak.  (Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images)
Michael Gove is said to be leading frequent no-deal planning meetings. (Getty)

“As if the economic shock of Covid-19 isn't bad enough, the Govt is quietly working towards a no-deal Brexit - time is running out,” the MP for Brentford & Isleworth tweeted.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves also urged the government to clarify its Brexit timetable, arguing that “they mustn’t crash out without a deal”.

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"The last thing our country and our economy needs at the moment is a further shock that could put jobs and livelihoods at risk,” Ms Reeves told Sky News on Sunday.

"We're saying they mustn't rush this and if they are not going to secure a deal, they mustn't crash out without a deal.

“So that means taking the time that is necessary but it's up to the government to show they can deliver on the promises they've made to the British people.

"That is getting a good deal and a good deal by the end of this year, and if they're not in a position to do that they need to come back and explain a timetable."

Former vice-president of the European Commission Viviane Reding also criticised the government’s position on social media.

She tweeted: “Unfortunately it looks like ‘no butter, no money’ but plenty of red tape. The Corona-crisis might be used by GB rulers to provoke a hard Brexit?!”

Earlier this week, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned in a speech that Britain would not be able to leave with “the best of both worlds”.

Mr Barnier said there was “incomprehension on the British side of the conditions for access to our market”.

He added: “I’ve invited the UK to change tactics, to change strategy if they really do want to strike an agreement. There seems to be a real lack of understanding.”

Britain’s lead negotiator David Frost has set a two-week deadline for a compromise to be reached on a number of key issues including fishing rights and trade agreements.

The next round of talks is due in two weeks but it remains unclear whether an extension to the December exit date will be agreed by the legal date June 30 deadline.

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