Brexit: Government to place 3,500 troops on standby to prepare for no-deal chaos

MPs told the soldiers would be ready to ‘support any government department on any contingencies they may need’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 18 December 2018 16:07
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Defence Secretary tells MPs 3,500 troops are on standby to help in event of no-deal Brexit

A total of 3,500 troops will be put on standby for any crisis triggered by a no-deal Brexit, the defence secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson said the soldiers would be ready to “support any government department on any contingencies they may need”.

The comment came despite Downing Street indicating there would be no need for troop deployments as part of the decision to move “in full” to prepare for crashing out of the EU without an agreement.

It also comes after Tobias Ellwood, Mr Williamson’s deputy at the Ministry of Defence went public on his department’s assessment of readiness for no-deal Brexit.

Last week, Mr Ellwood told the BBC that crashing out of the bloc was “not an option” for the army, adding: “MoD planning shows that arrangements are not in place – economically, and from a security perspective, it’s not possible.”

At cabinet, ministers agreed that – with stalemate over Theresa May’s Brexit deal – they had a duty to ramp up long-promised no-deal planning.

Officials will now seek to communicate with six million British businesses, calling on them to enact their own contingency plans, and with private citizens on actions they should take.

Whitehall will also implement proposals already publicised including those designed to ensure vital food and medical supplies do not run out.

In the Commons, Mr Williamson was asked if he had received “any approaches from other government departments about using our world-class armed forces personnel in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.

He replied: “We’ve, as yet, not had any formal requests from any government departments.

“But what are doing is putting contingency plans in place, and what we will do is have 3,500 service personnel held at readiness, including regulars and reserves, in order to support any government department on any contingencies they may need.”

Ian Murray, a Labour supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign group, said: “Putting 3,500 military personnel on standby for a no-deal Brexit demonstrates just how incredibly serious this is.

“This is the reality of a no-deal Brexit: soldiers on the streets; medicines being stockpiled in the NHS; and airports and ferry terminals grinding to a halt. This is scary tactics, pure and simple.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson said the government had allocated more than £4bn for spending on Brexit planning, £2bn to be allocated imminently.

He said it was impossible to say how much of this money would turn out to be “wasted” – if a no-deal Brexit was averted – because some would be spent on new systems, which would be required regardless.

The spokesman confirmed the plans included chartering space on cross-Channel shipping, to bring in supplies of food and medicines, if necessary.

But he refused to say whether businesses considering moving abroad in the event of no deal would be encouraged to take that course of action.

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