LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is speeding up preparations for leaving the European Union, employing thousands more workers to make sure customs posts, laws and systems work on day one of Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
May, weakened after losing her governing Conservatives’ majority at a June election, has been criticised by Brexit campaigners for being slow to prepare for a “no deal” scenario where Britain leaves the EU without an agreement on future ties.
With talks to unravel more than 40 years of union hamstrung over what Britain should pay to leave the bloc, May is keen to nudge the talks forward to discuss future trading arrangements, aware that there are only 17 months of talks left.
“Alongside the negotiations in Brussels, it is crucial that we are putting our own domestic preparations in place so that we are ready at the point that we leave the EU,” the spokesman told reporters.
“The preparatory work has seen a significant acceleration in recent months. Departments are preparing detailed delivery plans for each of the around 300 programmes under way across government.”
Brexit campaigners are demanding that Britain leave with no deal if the talks do not move on beyond a discussion of the divorce settlement on so-called Brexit bill, EU citizens rights and the border with EU member Ireland by December.
The spokesman said that work under way included preparations for no deal, but that “many of these will be needed even in our preferred scenario of a bold and ambitious deal – for example, implementing either of our proposed customs arrangements.”
To that aim, almost 3,000 new posts have been created for Brexit and Britain’s tax and customs authority will add a further 3,000-5,000 workers next year. The government has also committed 500 million pounds ($660.45 million).
But before leaving the EU, the government faces a struggle to get parliamentary support for a law to sever political, financial and legal ties with the bloc – the EU Withdrawal Bill against which lawmakers have tabled hundreds of amendments.
Asked whether May was preparing to offer a concession over a final vote on any deal struck with the EU, her spokesman said there was “lots of speculation in relation to Brexit”.
“We’ve always said that we’ll do whatever is necessary,” he said.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Estelle Shirbon