Chancellor Sajid Javid has hailed the UK economy as “fundamentally strong” as he pledged £2.1bn to “turbocharge” no-deal Brexit preparations.
Speaking on a visit to Tilbury docks in Essex, Mr Javid said: “In 91 days we will be leaving the EU.
“We want to leave with a good deal – something that abolishes the undemocratic backstop. But, if we don’t get that good deal, we will be leaving with no deal.
“Since I’ve arrived at the Treasury I have turbocharged our preparations, both at the Treasury and helping across government, to prepare for no deal.
“Not because we want it. But we have to be prepared because we will be leaving on 31 October.”
The chancellor is allocating £2.1bn across different Whitehall departments and devolved administrations ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit, with £1.1bn being provided immediately.
The Treasury claimed this will double Brexit funding for this year, with a further £1bn to be made available should it be needed.
Among the measures the extra funding will be spent on are:
- An extra 500 Border Force officers, meaning there will be 1,000 more this year;
- Avoiding delays in processing UK passport applications;
- Improving transport around ports and managing traffic disruption in Kent;
- Ensuring continuing supplies of vital medicines and medical products;
- An information campaign to help the public and businesses be ready for 31 October
Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired his first Brexit “war cabinet” on Thursday, with the all-male “Exit Strategy Committee” comprised of Mr Javid, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
The pledge of more no deal money has led to questions over whether there is enough time before 31 October to fully utilise the cash, and whether some of it – such as £434m to ensure the continuity of medical supplies – was being partly reannounced.
Mr Javid promised the funding on the same day the Bank of England warned a no-deal Brexit would leave Britain worse off, triggering a drip in the pound that could leave sterling at record lows against other currencies.
The Bank also warned, even in the event of a smooth Brexit, there was still a one-in-three chance of a recession in the coming year.
Labour has attacked the government’s spending on preparations for a “totally avoidable” no-deal Brexit as a waste of money that should instead be spent on schools and hospitals.
But Mr Javid insisted the government could invest in public services and prepare to leave the EU without a divorce agreement, as he commented on the underlying strength of the economy.
He said: “Since 2010, because of the policies of the government since then, because of the hard work of the British people, our economy is fundamentally strong.
“So, today, we can make many choices, we can choose to both invest in our schools, our hospitals, our fantastic police, for example, but we can also prepare to exit the EU.
“And, if that means leaving with no deal, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Mr Javid claimed the International Monetary Fund has forecast the UK economy will grow faster this year than France, Germany and Italy.
He also confirmed a spending review of Whitehall budgets would take place this year.
The Treasury’s latest allocation means it has now made £6.3bn available to prepare for Brexit, including £4.2bn this financial year alone.
The UK was originally due to leave the EU on 29 March before former prime minister Theresa May agreed a delay with EU leaders following the repeated rejection of her withdrawal agreement by MPs.
Mr Javid suggested the UK would not have been ready to leave the EU without a deal before April, despite existing preparations.
He said: “A lot of the work was already going on, but what we needed to do was turbocharge it – to make sure we are properly, genuinely ready on 31 October.
“Of course that does require more funding and support in certain priority areas.”
Despite the focus on no-deal Brexit preparations, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak earlier told Sky News much of the money would need to be spent whether the UK left the EU with a deal or without a deal.
He said: “A lot of the investments we’re making today are investments we would need to have anyway.
“We are leaving the EU by the end of October, that means we are leaving the single market and customs union.
“So that means changes to how we trade, it means changes to our borders and a lot of the investments today will just make good on those.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, the chair of the House of Commons’ public accounts committee, accused Mr Johnson of spending taxpayers’ cash on “megaphone diplomacy” with the EU, in his efforts to get Brussels to renegotiate the Brexit deal.
She told Sky News: “The danger is this is just smoke and mirrors by the prime minister, throwing up sand really to deflect from the issue.
“But also very much megaphone diplomacy with Brussels, using taxpayers’ money, spending it like water.
“We will be looking what it’s actually delivered.”