British Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said the Government is doing “everything possible” to ensure Britain is ready to leave the EU at the end of October “come what may”.
Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in charge of no-deal preparations, said he was confident the country’s food system would be able to cope if the UK was unable to strike a new agreement with the EU.
His intervention came amid fresh warnings that British business did not have time to prepare for a no-deal break on October 31 with delays at the seaports and a lack of warehouse space to store essential food supplies.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) disclosed that it had asked the British Government to set aside elements of competition law to allow firms to work together to co-ordinate and direct supplies.
And the Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned that hauliers risked going out of business because they would be unable to cope with lengthy delays expected at the borders.
Mr Gove, who was in the Port of Dover with British Home Secretary Priti Patel and British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to inspect the Brexit preparations, said ministers were constantly talking to industry and suppliers about what measures were needed.
However, he acknowledged that it would require the co-operation of EU countries like France if trade was to continue to flow smoothly after a no-deal Brexit.
“I think it’s important we work with the French and others to ensure the smoothest possible exit from the European Union,” he said.
“In the event of no deal, of course the EU has its obligations, but we here in the UK are doing everything possible in order to make sure that we are ready come what may to leave on October 31 and to honour the instruction of the British people.”
In response to the FDF call for the competition laws to be relaxed, Mr Gove insisted the food supply chain would be to cope.
“I’m confident, because the UK has a very resilient food supply system, that actually we will be able to make sure that people have a wide range and all the choice that they need.
“But of course, we’re constantly talking to supermarkets, food distributors and others to see what more the Government can do to help.”
Earlier FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft said it had been seeking assurances since the end of last year the law would be eased in the event of no deal as otherwise firms could be fined if they worked together to deal with the “likely” shortages.
“If the Government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages – to decide where to prioritise shipments – they will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions,” he said.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said the haulage industry simply did not have time to prepare for the extra paperwork that would be needed in the event of no deal.
“There simply isn’t enough time, I believe, to get business ready for a no-deal and, therefore, the implications of that mean that we are likely to see queues if vehicles turn up with no paperwork,” he said.
“That is going to lead to delays and it’s going to lead to businesses going out of business because you know most hauliers simply can’t afford to be delayed for 24, 48 hours.”
Mr Gove, who on Tuesday accused the EU of refusing to engage in negotiations, insisted it was still possible there could be a deal before the October 31 deadline, even though both sides appeared deadlocked.
“At the moment, the EU appear to be putting up the barriers, saying that they don’t want to talk,” he said.
“I’m sure they will change their mind, I hope they will change their mind, but we are ready to leave on October 31 deal or no deal.”
Earlier Boris Johnson’s new chief adviser Dominic Cummings brushed off criticism from the pro-Remain Tory MP Dominic Grieve.
The former attorney general branded Mr Cummings “arrogant” for suggesting Mr Johnson could refuse to resign if he was defeated in a Commons vote of confidence until after Britain was out of the EU on October 31.
“I don’t think I am arrogant. I don’t know very much about very much. Mr Grieve… we’ll see what he’s right about,” he told a Sky News crew outside his London home.