UK military, businesses preparing for ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

UK's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives on March 21, 2019 in Brussels on the first day of an EU summit focused on Brexit. European Union leaders meet in Brussels on March 21 and 22, for the last EU summit before Britain's scheduled exit of the union. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019
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UK military, businesses preparing for ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

  • May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in attempt to get support for Brexit delay
  • The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent

LONDON: Britain's defense ministry has started up a no-deal Brexit operations centre in a nuclear-bomb-proof bunker in central London, a spokesman said on Thursday.

"It's a team that's ready to support any action if it becomes necessary," the spokesman said, adding that the new centre has "all the right infrastructure".

"As we get closer to a theoretical or possible no-deal, this is the place where the response could be co-ordinated", the spokesman said.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal, unless one can be agreed in time or an Brexit extension is implemented.

The defense ministry in December said 3,500 military personnel would be on stand-by to help government departments for "any contingencies" in case of a no-deal outcome.

The spokesman said those troops were now "at readiness."

The military's crisis management operation for a no-deal Brexit, which is dubbed "Operation Redfold", was activated at the beginning of this week.

UK companies have also ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit as best they can over the past couple of months, the Bank of England said.

With the prospect of a chaotic Brexit potentially eight days away, a survey by the central bank’s agents showed that around 80 percent of companies “judged themselves ready” for such a scenario, in which the country crashes out of the European Union with no deal and no transition to new trading arrangements with the bloc. That’s up from around 50 percent in an equivalent survey in January.

To prepare, some firms have moved jobs and operations to the EU to continue to benefit from its seamless trade. Many have had to learn how to file customs declarations and adjust labels on goods. Exporters of animals are learning about health checks they will need to comply with.

According to the bank’s survey, however, many of those companies preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit said “there were limits to the degree of readiness that was feasible in the face of the range of possible outcomes in that scenario.”

There’s only so much companies can do, for example, to prepare for new tariffs and exchange rate movements.

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RELATED: Online petition to revoke Brexit gets 600,000 supporters in less than 24 hours

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Britain appears headed for a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29 if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement with the EU.

She met with EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to get support for a delay to the country’s departure date to June 30. EU leaders have said a short extension would have to be conditional on her Brexit plan getting parliamentary backing and have indicated they would only be willing to back a delay to May 22, the day before elections to the European Parliament.

After two heavy rejections in parliament, there are doubts as to whether she will be able to get parliamentary approval. What would happen next is uncertain.

European leaders, including those from France and Luxembourg, have said any extension will be granted dependent on May's deal passing a third parliamentary vote.

The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent within months, though Governor Mark Carney has indicated the recession will be less savage, partly because of heightened preparedness.

According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, at which the main interest rate was kept at 0.75 percent, rate-setters warned “Brexit uncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment.”

Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years. In 2018, the economy grew by 1.4 percent, its lowest rate since 2012, even during what was then a global upswing. Business investment was down 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the year before.
 


'No collusion, no obstruction' Trump declares victory as Mueller report published

Updated 50 min 47 sec ago
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'No collusion, no obstruction' Trump declares victory as Mueller report published

  • Justice Department released the full — though redacted — report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russian medaling in US election
  • Attorney General Bill Barr said in a summary of the report that there was no collusion between Trump and Russians

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign — before the long-awaited full probe report was made public.
“Game Over,” Trump tweeted, using a “Game of Thrones” style montage that pictured him standing in dramatic fog.


Just about an hour later, the Justice Department released the full — though redacted — report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which nevertheless raised questions about Trump’s actions, saying investigators were “unable” to clear him of obstruction.
Weeks ago, Attorney General Bill Barr said in a summary of the report that there was no collusion between Trump and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
In a nationally broadcast news conference held right before the report’s release, Barr repeatedly drove that point home.
“We now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Barr told reporters, in a statement that effectively sought to spin the report before it was released.
“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” Barr said.
“That is the bottom line.”
The extreme secrecy surrounding Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation ended abruptly at about 11a.m. in Washington when the 400-odd pages of the report were made public to Congress, the media and the public.
The report’s publication marks a new peak in a political storm raging over Washington throughout the first half of Trump’s first term in office.
While leftist opponents long hoped that Mueller would either charge Trump with crimes or provide evidence for impeachment, the outcome so far has favored the divisive, right-wing Republican president.
“NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION,” a triumphant Trump wrote in his “Game of Thrones” pastiche tweet.
Later, he said at the start of a speech: “I’m having a good day.”
Barr emphatically sought to clear Trump of allegations that his actions — including his public attacks on Mueller and firing of then FBI chief James Comey — were not legally actionable.
The Trump-appointed attorney general had already asserted this in his summary of Mueller’s report a month ago, despite noting that Mueller himself had been unable to rule clearly on the issue.
At his news conference, Barr said he was standing by his own ruling, noting that Trump had no intention to obstruct and had merely been “frustrated and angered.”
“The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims,” he said.
“And at the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But the report said: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Publication of the report — minus parts blacked out for legal or security reasons — will in theory give everyone a chance to get the full picture on a scandal that has been tangled in conspiracy theories.
But given the volcanic political temperature in Washington and the left-right chasm through the rest of the country ahead of Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, the debate over what really happened is likely to rage on.
At a minimum, the details — based on exhaustive interviews by Mueller’s prosecutors with Trump insiders — could paint an unflattering picture of the president and his links to Russia, including a previously undeclared real estate project in Moscow.
The deeper analysis of whether he committed obstruction of justice could also provide headaches for the White House.
Trump himself is supremely confident that his opponents have failed in what he claims was high-level “treason” to destroy his presidency.
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” the president said before Barr took the podium, reprising many of his favorite slogans about his opponents.
Claiming that Barr has been working to hamper and whitewash the Russia report, Democrats will push for still more details and testimony in the near future — including from Mueller himself.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted.
Nadler set a deadline of May 23 for Mueller to come to Capitol Hill.