Health

Dominic Raab attempts to calm no-deal Brexit fears

LONDON — There are no plans to deploy the military to secure food and medicines supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday, as the U.K. government published advice for citizens and businesses to prepare for a breakdown in talks with Brussels.

Calling the documents a “practical and proportionate” approach to the threat of disruption in the event of no deal, Raab sought to debunk what he called “misinformation” about the consequences of no deal, insisting that neither the army nor air force would be called upon and that there would be no “sandwich famine.”

However, he said he recognizes the risks of no deal “in the short-term.”

Advisory documents published today cover 25 different areas, including health and medicines regulation, trade, banking and insurance services, energy, farm payments, university research and tobacco regulations.

Several of the documents raise explicit concerns about higher costs and red tape for business. The notice on trade with the EU acknowledges that traders who have never had to deal with customs declarations before will have to engage a customs broker, acquire new authorizations from the tax authority and buy the appropriate software to manage their new responsibilities, all of which “will come at a cost.”

The U.K. government now has 7,000 people working on Brexit preparations and funding is in place for another 9,000.

Individuals could also see the cost of card payments to the EU go up, the documents warn, and these transactions (covering everything from goods purchases from EU firms to Airbnb payments for holiday homes) would no longer be covered by rules that prevent businesses placing surcharges on transactions. But Raab pointed out that the problem of access to bank accounts would apply to EU citizens as well because in the event of no deal “we are not considered, strictly, an EU member state.”

But he said, “I would think that was a practical issue that we should be able to resolve.”

Much of the no-deal planning is based on a unilateral approach, but Raab said he finds it “very hard to imagine” that the EU would not cooperate with the U.K. to minimize disruption.

He said that the U.K. government now has 7,000 people working on Brexit preparations and there is funding in place for another 9,000 people to join the civil service for Brexit-related work. The U.K. Border Force is recruiting an extra 300 staff, he said, with plans “in the pipeline” to recruit a further 1,000 people.

Raab and the EUs chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

The documents say that a no-deal must not disrupt the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and acknowledge that there would be “very significant challenges” surrounding trade for Northern Ireland in the event of no deal and this represents a “unique and highly sensitive context.”

“The U.K. would stand ready to engage constructively to meet our commitments and act in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland,” the trade technical notice says, and pledges to “provide more information in due course.”

On medicines regulation, the U.K. would continue to recognize drugs and medical devices approved by the EU, but sharing information on databases on medicines safety would cease in the event of no deal, the documents say. EU laws governing the regulation of tobacco would cease to apply in the U.K., but the government would seek to replicate them. However, every cigarette pack in the U.K. would need to change immediately from exit day, because the health warning photos used on them are copyrighted by the EU.

Raab also claimed that while the U.K. wants a deal, there are some “opportunities” from a no-deal outcome, including regulatory freedom, the ability to set an independent trade policy immediately, and to put in place an independent immigration policy. The U.K. would also be able to cease its payments to the EU budget.

Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry said: “By now, few can be in any doubt that no deal would wreak havoc on economies across Europe. These papers show that those who claim crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organisation rules is acceptable live in a world of fantasy, where facts are not allowed to challenge ideology.”

Keir Starmer, Labours shadow Brexit secretary said: “We are eight weeks out from the deadline for reaching an agreement. Ministers should be getting on with the job of negotiating a Brexit deal that works for Britain, not publishing vague documents that will convince no one.”

“A no-deal Brexit has never been viable and would represent a complete failure of the Governments negotiating strategy,” he added.

Dominic Raab said the papers published Thursday represent around a third of the total and he expects the rest to be published in batches before the end of September.

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