Emergency no-deal Brexit planning in the UK has been ramped up at a key government department responsible for food supply, with officials now working 24 hours a day to minimise potential disruption.
HuffPost UK has learnt that the European Union Exit Emergency Centre (EUXE), based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has intensified operations this week amid fears of a potential accidental no-deal Brexit on Friday.
A no-deal Brexit would see tariffs imposed on goods travelling to and from the EU and the introduction of customs checks, potentially causing major delays at ports.
EUXE staff have therefore moved on to around the clock shifts while Defra policy teams are prioritising exit work in areas like ensuring an adequate food supply and that livestock, waste and other imports and exports to do not get stuck at the border.
Prime Minister Theresa May is hoping EU leaders will grant a short delay to Brexit at a crunch Wednesday summit but French President Emmanuel Macron is threatening to pull the plug and force the UK to crash out with no deal on Friday.
Macron and other leaders are expected to push for a longer delay to the end of the year with tough conditions imposed on the UK, which the prime minister may find it difficult to accept.
Critics said the stepping up of Defra’s emergency planning showed May had been reckless for driving Britain close to the Brexit “cliff edge” and that no deal would pose a “genuine” threat to food security.
But a government source insisted: “This is part of sensible contingency planning to ensure we are properly prepared in the event of a no-deal.”
Industry chiefs meanwhile warned that no deal would be “catastrophic” for Britain’s food and drink sector and warned that businesses will never be ready for that outcome.
A Food and Drink Federation Spokesperson said: “No deal would be a catastrophe for UK food and drink.
“That outcome is still not off the table.
“Industry cannot possibly be ready for no-deal, but extensive time, effort and significant cost continue to be diverted into contingency planning.
“FDF and the whole food chain is working closely with Defra in an effort to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit.
“We cannot rest until we are certain this will not happen.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who supports the Best for Britain anti-Brexit campaign, said: “This shows the government’s recklessness for bringing us so close to the Brexit cliff edge.
“The fact that there is a crack team of emergency planners in Defra working around the clock to mitigate the shock of a no deal Brexit shows the genuine and unprecedented threat to food security in this country if we crash out of the EU without a deal.
“This would have a real and devastating impact on people’s livelihoods up and down the country.
“Enough is enough. Deal or no deal, it’s time for the Brexit process to be put back in the hands of the people.”