How the British Government Is Rehearsing Worst-Case Brexit Scenarios

The British government has confirmed that the Brexit deal will finally get its postponed parliamentary vote on Tuesday, January 15th. If lawmakers approve the agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union, then there will be an orderly divorce on March 29th—but if not, the result will likely be chaotic.

On Monday, the British government continued preparations for the “no-deal” scenario by parking 87 trucks at the obscure Manston Airport, near the crucial port of Dover in Kent. The trucks will drive to the port to stress-test the road network there.

Dover is the busiest ferry port in Europe and the main freight link between the U.K. and the European mainland. If the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a Brexit deal, there will likely be massive congestion at Dover, due to the new customs checks that will suddenly come into force. Manston Airport would provide the emergency truck parking lot.

Meanwhile, according to consulting giant EY, the British financial sector is frantically shifting around $1 trillion in assets from the U.K. to other financial hubs in the EU, such as Frankfurt.

“The closer we get to March 29th without a deal, the more assets will be transferred and headcount hired locally or relocated,” said Omar Ali, EY’s U.K. financial services chief.

With the fateful date fast approaching, many have warned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Britain’s food and medicine supplies—hence the truck-related rehearsals in Kent.

Some ardent Brexiteers, such as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, maintain a no-deal Brexit is closest to the arrangement that the British people voted for in 2016, when they narrowly backed Brexit in a referendum.

However, more than 200 lawmakers have signed a letter to May, demanding that she rule out a no-deal Brexit. It is not clear how May could rule out the possibility, given that no-deal is the default scenario if members of Parliament do not approve her deal. And although that deal would certainly leave the U.K. worse off than it is now, for years subject to EU rules over which it has no control, it is the only deal that is on the table.

Thus far, the numbers do not look good for May. The prime minister has repeatedly begged her EU counterparts to provide more concessions that could let her win over skeptical parliamentarians—and is still trying—but those other EU leaders are united in their resistance to any further changes.

If May’s government loses its vote next week, it is quite possible that it will collapse. If that happens, there are a range of possible scenarios: a new, likely hard-Brexiteer Conservative leader to replace May; a snap election; or perhaps even the formation of a minority government by the opposition Labour Party, most members of which want a fresh referendum—though party leader Jeremy Corbyn does not.

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