Boris Johnson has piled pressure on the civil service to prepare “rapidly” for a no-deal Brexit, after Downing Street aides had their summer holiday cancelled.
The prime minister has instructed Whitehall’s workforce to make it their “top priority” to get Britain ready for leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement on 31 October.
Staffers in Number 10 and special advisers to the cabinet were also told they had to work through August to prepare for the scenario.
Parliament meanwhile remains in recess, with MPs due to return to Westminster on 3 September.
Britain is on track for a no-deal divorce from the EU, as Mr Johnson continues to hold the line that Brexit will happen “do or die” on Halloween.
In a letter to all civil servants sent on Friday afternoon, Mr Johnson praised the “highly regarded” civil service for its “great deal of hard work” already undertaken to prepare for no-deal.
“Preparing urgently and rapidly for the possibility of an exit without a deal will be my top priority, and it will be the top priority for the civil service too,” he wrote.
“Between now and then we must engage and communicate clearly with the British people about what our plans for taking back control mean, what people and businesses need to do, and the support we will provide.”
Mr Johnson added he would “very much prefer to leave with a deal”, but admitted “I recognise this may not happen”.
A government source, speaking after Downing Street staff were told their leave had been cancelled, told Politico: “This is a serious time for the country.
“We are all incredibly privileged to have these jobs and we need to be getting on with it.”
A Tory insider also dismissed to Sky News claims the news increased the chances of Mr Johnson calling an early general election.
Despite the move, MPs are plotting to intervene and block no-deal by either calling a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister or trying to wrestle back control of the Commons to propose their own law.
In either scenario they would need to ask Brussels to delay Brexit, with any decision in the hands of the EU27 leaders.