James Cleverly answers MPs’ questions to the Cabinet Office on Brexit preparedness.
Making sure that business and the public are ready for Brexit is a priority of the Government. That is why the Prime Minister negotiated with the EU a new withdrawal agreement that will end the uncertainty, secure an implementation period and ensure we leave with a business-friendly deal. Yesterday, the House backed the Prime Minister’s deal but voted to delay Brexit and extend uncertainty for business and citizens alike. As the EU has not responded to Parliament’s letter, the only responsible course of action now is to accelerate preparations for a no-deal outcome. The Government’s EU Exit Operations Committee is now meeting seven days a week. We will maintain our public information campaign, and Ministers and officials will continue to meet businesses of all sizes to provide advice and guidance, building on the thousands of business and other stakeholder engagements already recorded.
In my previous exchange with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I asked him what steps would be taken to support firms and farms affected by no deal and he set out the plans for Operation Kingfisher. How much funding will be set aside for Operation Kingfisher?
We continue to work closely with the farming sector to ensure that it is fully prepared for when the UK leaves the EU. We have pledged to continue the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament and we will do whatever is necessary to protect our farming communities.
In the light of yesterday’s vote, should businesses in Rugby accelerate their own preparations for leaving the EU without a deal?
The Government have always made it clear that our preferred option is to leave with a deal. We could have done that in a timely manner had this House not voted for delay, but until we have certainty, the only credible and reasonable thing for businesses to do is to continue to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
I recently visited a number of small companies in my constituency who welcome Government advice, but say that much of it is vague and non-specific. Will my right hon. Friend ask his civil servants to ensure advice is more specific?
I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to our officials. I am very proud to say that the preparing for Brexit page on the gov.uk website is the page with the highest traffic, but there is always more we can do to ensure that specific information is passed on to businesses. I will ensure that that is passed on to our officials.
Will the Minister confirm that, for the no-deal preparations in relation to the port of Portsmouth, three companies of soldiers and 180 police are on standby? If that is correct, how many more troops and police have been put on standby for remaining ports around the country?
I have to confess that the details the right hon. Gentleman highlights are not known to me. If he would like to furnish me with that information, I am more than happy to look at it. The broader point I would make is that the Government are taking the appropriate action to ensure that we can leave without a deal if needs be. As I say, that has never been the Government’s preferred option and we could have been in a position to leave with a deal, widely welcomed by businesses and communities across the United Kingdom, if he and others had not voted to prevent it.
I wonder whether the Minister still has that clock on his wall, which he famously pointed at, counting down to 31 October. Is it still working? Did the Government pay for it, or did he provide for it himself?
I do not answer questions from the Dispatch Box in my capacity as chairman of the Conservative party, but if you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, the clock was not paid for out of public funds. Had Members across this House not voted to delay Brexit, we would have left on time with a deal and in good order.
The Minister continues to emphasise preparations for no deal, but did he not see in the paper yesterday a civil servant describing Operation Yellowhammer as the most expensive but failed bullying exercise in the whole of British history designed to frighten MPs into supporting a rotten Tory deal? Does he agree that there can be no justification for no deal once the EU, in the next few days, extends article 50? Under those circumstances, will the Minister for no deal then declare himself redundant and send the civil service back to do their proper jobs?
Ministers at the Dispatch Box answer questions on behalf of the Government, not civil servants. The point I would make is that preparing for a no-deal Brexit is the pragmatic and sensible thing for the Government to do. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about a no-deal Brexit, he could and should have voted in a way that ensured we left on 31 October with a deal that works for the whole of the UK. He chose not to.