Michael Gove has triggered official contingency plans for no deal, as the government manoeuvred to try to pressure MPs into backing its Brexit deal by invoking the threat of the EU refusing to grant another departure extension, The Guardian reports.
Gove, whose cabinet role involves leading on no-deal preparations, said the government had begun the Operation Yellowhammer contingency plan, and that he would chair the no-deal cabinet sub-committee later on Sunday.
“The risk of leaving without a deal has actually increased because we cannot guarantee that the European council will grant an extension,” Gove told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.
“And that is why, I will later today be chairing a cabinet committee meeting – extraordinarily, on a Sunday – in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for no deal is accelerated.
“It means that we are triggering Operation Yellowhammer. It means that we are preparing to ensure that if no extension is granted – and we cannot guarantee that an extension will be granted – that we have done everything possible in order to prepare to leave without a deal.”
There is no particular indication that the EU would refuse an extension if needed, and Gove’s comments seem primarily aimed at increasing pressure on MPs to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal after the Commons voted on Saturday to withhold immediate support until it can scrutinise the surrounding legislation.
This prompted a backbench-instigated law obliging the prime minister to send a letter to the EU seeking a delay beyond 31 October, which Johnson did – albeit accompanied by another letter arguing against this.
Gove insisted the UK would still definitely leave on 31 October, saying he had even made a bet with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, that it would happen.
“We are going to leave by 31 October,” he said. “We have the means and the ability to do so and people who – yesterday we had some people who voted for delay, voted explicitly to try to frustrate this process and to drag it out. I think actually the mood in the country is clear and the prime minister’s determination is absolute and I am with him in this: we must leave by 31 October.”
At the same time as threatening no deal, Gove lavished praise on former Conservative MPs such as Amber Rudd, the ex-work and pensions secretary, who quit the government and party last month in protest at Johnson’s seeming intent on no deal.
Rudd told the Ridge show earlier that she had backed the amendment on Saturday not to seek delay but as “an insurance policy”, to try to prevent hardline Brexit MPs forcing no deal at a later point in the process.
“I support the prime minister’s deal, and I have told him I will support it next week,” Rudd said. “I understand people’s fatigue – let me tell you, I suffer from it myself – but we have to make sure we don’t leave with no deal.”
Rudd said she expected most of the larger group of ex-Tory MPs who lost the party whip for rebelling over Brexit would also back the deal – even though, she said, it was a less good plan than that of Theresa May, and could well damage the economy.
Johnson’s plan was “less good” for the union in terms of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, Rudd said, saying she understood the reasons why the DUP did not back the plan.
Asked about its economic impact, Rudd said: “Our government’s own assessments are that it will hurt the economy, I think, by 4% to 6% a year. So it’s serious stuff. But I still think that it’s the right thing to do, because we had the referendum in 2016, and there’s other steps we can take to try and mitigate that.”