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3,500 soldiers on standby as Brexit chaos fears ramped up

Plans: Gavin Williamson
Plans: Gavin Williamson

By Andrew Woodcock

Thousands of troops are to be put on standby to help with potential disruption from a no-deal Brexit, it has been revealed.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson's announcement that 3,500 regular soldiers and reservists will be "held at readiness" came as Cabinet agreed to ramp up preparations for the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal.

With just 100 days to go to the March 29 scheduled Brexit date, businesses were urged to consider implementing their own contingency plans and households "should also make preparations".

Mrs May was accused by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable of "psychological warfare" in a bid to persuade MPs to support her Brexit deal when it returns to Parliament in January.

And former minister Nick Boles said he would resign the Conservative whip if no-deal Brexit ever became official Government policy, in order to "vote in any way necessary to stop it from happening".

But Downing Street insisted the Government was simply taking "sensible" steps to prepare for all eventualities, while stressing that delivering a Brexit under the terms of Mrs May's deal remains its "top priority". However, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said deploying the army showed the extent of the Brexit chaos. She added: "We have had the appointment of a minister for food shortages, reports of potential food and medicine shortages and report after report warning of the dire economic consequences of Brexit. Now we have the British government putting thousands of its soldiers on standby. If that's not a crisis then I don't know what is.

"Surely this is the time to step back and reflect on the Brexit madness and realise the catastrophe it would be for everyone."

A 100-page information pack telling businesses of possible changes to the way they trade with EU states will go live online on Friday - with 80,000 emails going out to firms thought likely to be most affected.

And advice to private individuals will be issued over the coming weeks through adverts, websites and direct communications. Areas expected to be covered include bank card payments in the EU and travelling to the continent with pets.

Asked whether families should feel able to go ahead with plans to travel to Europe for the Easter holidays, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I'm not aware of any reason they shouldn't do that."

Around £2bn has already been allocated for spending by Whitehall departments for Brexit preparations, and Chancellor Philip Hammond announced last night how a further £2bn will be shared out. The extra funding for 2019/20 will be focused on priority areas including borders, trade and security.

Twenty-five Government departments will receive additional money, with the Home Office set to receive almost one quarter of the sum - £480m - to increase Border Force capability with "hundreds of new officers", and to help it prepare the EU Settlement Scheme.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will be given £410m.

HM Revenue and Customs will get an extra £375m, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) £190m and the Department for International Trade will receive an additional £128m.

Belfast Telegraph


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