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Prepare to leave EU without a deal, warns Theresa May

By Rob Merrick

Theresa May has warned the British public to prepare for crashing out of the EU with no deal, setting out emergency plans to avoid border meltdown for businesses and travellers.

As hopes of an agreement appeared to fade at home and abroad, the Prime Minister - for the first time - set out detailed "steps to minimise disruption" on Brexit day in 2019.

They included plans for huge inland lorry parks to cope with the lengthy new customs checks that will be needed - to avoid ports becoming traffic-choked.

The move came as Ms May admitted she expected the deadlocked talks to drag on for another year before any breakthrough.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Ms May's insistence that she would make no further compromises in the talks was firmly rebuffed.

"There has been, so far, no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK's court for the rest to happen," said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission's chief spokeswoman.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister continued to insist that "real and tangible progress" towards an agreement had been made since her high-profile speech in Florence last month.

But she also made clear that new policy papers on trade and customs were intended to show Britain could operate as an "independent trading nation" - even if no trade deal was reached.

She told MPs: "While I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a Government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing.

"These White Papers also support that work, including setting out steps to minimise disruption for businesses and travellers."

The planned legislation for post-Brexit customs arrangements set out what would be required under a "no deal" exit.

"Traders that currently trade only with the EU will be subject to customs declarations and customs checks for the first time," it stated. "The impact is likely to be greatest where goods are travelling in vehicles (e.g. HGVs, vans, etc.)." And it added: "It would not be desirable to hold vehicles for any length of time at ports to present goods to Customs for export.

"Therefore, presentation would take place inland as much as possible, and at the port there would be a means to confirm that goods have left the UK."

A Bill would ensure "the UK can charge customs duty on goods (including on goods imported from the EU)."

In her statement, the Prime Minister suggested any Brexit agreement was a long time off and would come right down to the wire.

"We are negotiating a deal. We will not have negotiated that deal until, I suspect, close to the end of that period that's been set aside for it," she said.

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