After it was revealed at the weekend that Whitehall officials had drawn up three scenarios for a no-deal Brexit – a mild one, a severe one and one branded “Armageddon” – Downing Street brushed aside fears that the port of Dover would seize up on day one following Withdrawal Day and supermarkets in Scotland and Cornwall would run out of food within 48 hours.
“Look,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesman, “the Department for Exiting the EU has said that these claims are completely false. A significant amount of work on decision-making has gone into no-deal plans, especially at it relates to ports and we know none of this would happen.”
Asked, therefore, if the Government was giving a cast-iron guarantee that none of the feared chaos would happen, the spokesman nodded.
He went on: “We have been clear throughout that we will be fully prepared for all scenarios but, equally being clear, that we will secure a good deal because it’s in the interests of both the UK and the EU to do so.”
Asked how Mrs May could give a cast-iron guarantee that a so-called Brexit Armageddon would not happen when the UK did not know what the EU would do, the spokesman replied: “We are planning for all scenarios. We will make sure we are fully prepared in the event of any eventuality.”
Later, the Government’s Business Advisory Council met for a briefing with the PM and senior ministers, including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.
Among those attending were: Sir Gerry Grimstone, Chairman of Standard Life Aberdeen PLC; Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline; Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive of BT Group PLC; Sir Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems PLC and Paul Drechsler, President of the CBI.
A No 10 spokesman said the PM had “provided an update on the negotiations with the EU alongside the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, setting out plans to provide greater detail of the future relationship in a White Paper due to be published shortly”.
He added: “The business representatives expressed their support for this approach, which will build on information provided through the Prime Minister’s various speeches.”
Earlier, Mrs May’s spokesman, asked if the Brexit White Paper would be published before the EU Council at the end of this month, pointed out how he had “not put a timescale on it”.
He added that there had been “constructive discussions” with Brussels, which were on-going and when it was put to him that Peter Ptassek, the German Brexit co-ordinator, had suggested people should not expect much from the June EU summit, the spokesman replied: “We are working towards reaching agreement in October and the June Council is a staging post towards that.”
Asked what he meant by a “staging post,” he said: “Just that. I don’t have anything specific to add.”
In other developments:
*the pro-Brexit think-tank Open Europe said Britain should be prepared to align itself to EU rules regarding goods exports after Brexit but was too large an economy to allow the service sector to be a "rule-taker";
*Treasury minister Mel Stride said the UK Government planned “to keep VAT processes after EU exit as close as possible to what they are now”;
*the Institute for Government think-tank said the Government must set out its own proposal for a customs "backstop" plan ahead of the EU June Council;
*Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, denied threatening the PM over Brexit, insisting she did not think Mrs May would even consider a deal that would treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK and
*the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee will on Tuesday hold its first session in its inquiry into Scotland and Brexit in relation to trade and foreign investment.