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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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.
 


Mali's prime minister steps down as anger mounts over massacre

Updated 17 min 32 sec ago
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Mali's prime minister steps down as anger mounts over massacre

BAMAKO, Mali: Mali’s prime minister resigned along with his entire government on Thursday following criticism over their handling of an upsurge of violence in the center of the country and a massacre last month that left 160 people dead.
A statement from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s office said he had accepted Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga’s resignation, along with those of his ministers, two weeks after mass protests erupted over the rising tide of violence.
Lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties had submitted a motion of no confidence against the government on Wednesday, blaming Maiga and his administration for failing to clamp down on the unrest.
“A prime minister will be named very soon and a new government will be put in place after consultations with all political forces” from both the ruling and opposition sides, the statement from Keita’s office said.
The president had on Tuesday said in a televised address that he had “heard the anger,” without explicitly naming the prime minister.
The government had come under mounting pressure over its handling of violence in the restive Mopti region and especially a massacre on March 23 in which 160 people were killed in the village of Ogossagou near the border with Burkina Faso.
Members of the Dogon ethnic group — a hunting and farming community with a long history of tension with the nomadic Fulani people over access to land — were accused of being behind the mass killing.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Bamako on April 5 to protest against the upsurge of violence, accusing the government of not doing enough to stop it.
The protest was called by Muslim religious leaders, organizations representing the Fulani herding community, opposition parties and civil society groups.
Mali has been struggling to restore stability since Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the country’s vast desert north in early 2012.
While the jihadists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation that began in January 2013, huge areas are still in the grip of lawlessness, despite a 2015 peace agreement with some armed groups that sought to definitively stamp out the Islamist threat.
Since then, militants have shifted from the north toward the more densely populated center of the country, where they have sharpened ancient rivalries and ethnic conflicts that date back years.
Jihadist attacks have also spread to Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.