Boris Johnson unveils special Brexit committee as he makes no-deal planning ‘number one priority’
Meetings will convene in Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms – typically used by ministers for emergency responses
The prime minister told his cabinet during a Sunday conference call the new group will meet daily and direct operations from the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (Cobr) – typically used by ministers for emergency responses.
It will convene for the first time on Tuesday, consist of a “tight” number of ministers and will be chaired by Michael Gove, who was tasked last week of overseeing no-deal Brexit plans in his role at the Cabinet Office.
On Sunday, Mr Gove warned there was a “very real prospect” of a no-deal scenario, claiming the government is now “operating on the assumption” that Britain will exit the EU without a deal in 94 days’ time.
While the government still insists it wants to achieve an agreement with the EU, its hardline rhetoric and vow to “abolish” the backstop has been dismissed in Brussels, escalating the possibility of either a general election or no-deal Brexit.
Mr Gove added in an article for The Sunday Times that the “entire machinery of government will work flat-out” to prepare for the scenario, as he claimed “planning for a no deal is now this government’s No 1 priority”.
He said Mr Johnson’s administration will also launch one of the biggest peacetime public information campaigns to inform the public about a no-deal scenario.
Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, will also attend the daily sessions in Whitehall to make sure his department “is a motor for delivering Brexit, not the anchor”, a No 10 source said.
The “Daily Operations Committee”, as it will be formally known, will pass important issues up to Mr Johnson, who will chair two further Brexit committees – one focused on Britain’s future relationships around the world, and an “Exit Strategy Committee” which will meet twice weekly.
The ramping up of the government’s preparations for a no-deal exit from the EU comes as Mr Johnson makes his first visit to Scotland as prime minister on Monday to announce the expansion of growth deals across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson is expected to outline a £300m funding pot for communities in the devolved nations, as he claims it is “vital we renew the ties that bind out United Kingdom” as the government prepares for Brexit.
First launched in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2014, the government has so far committed £2.78bn to the deals.
Speaking ahead of his visit to a military base on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “Our union is the most successful political and economic union in history. We are a global brand and together we are safer, stronger and more prosperous.
“So as we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it’s vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom.
“I’m proud to be in Scotland today to make clear that I am a passionate believer in our great Union, and I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that every decision I make as prime minister promotes and strengthens our union.”
The PM is also expected to travel to Wales to meet members of the farming community, before heading to Northern Ireland to discuss the attempt to restore the executive that collapsed in January 2017.
But the trip risked being overshadowed after relations between Mr Johnson and the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson appeared to become increasingly strained at the weekend.
Ms Davidson – a rising star in the party, who has previously been critical of the new prime minister – refused to sign up to the cabinet’s hardline approach to a no-deal Brexit.
She is also reported to have been frustrated at the decision of Mr Johnson to sack her close friend David Mundell as Scottish secretary during his brutal cabinet cull last week.
While she offered her support to the prime minister in his efforts to reach a deal with Brussels, Ms Davidson wrote: “I don’t think the government should pursue a no-deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won’t support it.
“As leader of the party in Scotland, my position exists independently of government. I don’t have to sign a no-deal pledge to continue to serve.”