Boris Johnson is “turbo-charging” preparations to leave the EU without a deal on 31 October as his government’s number one priority, according to several senior cabinet ministers.
The new prime minister sent out cabinet ministers for interviews across newspapers and broadcasters this weekend as part of a publicity blitz about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Their message is that the UK will be heading for no deal unless EU leaders agree to replace the Irish backstop.
Michael Gove, the new Cabinet Office minister in charge of no-deal preparations, said the government was “operating on the assumption” that Britain would leave without a deal on 31 October and it was a “very real prospect” because EU leaders had so far not changed their minds about scrapping the backstop.
He said in the Sunday Times that an agreement might not be struck with Brussels by then, but there was a “new clarity of mission, we will exit the EU on October 31, no ifs, no buts, no more delay”.
On Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, he said: “You can’t just reheat the dish that’s been sent back and expect that will make it more palatable.”
At the same time, Sajid Javid, the new chancellor, told the Sunday Telegraph there would be “significant extra funding” this week to get Britain “fully ready to leave” the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.
He said the additional spending would include financing one of the country’s “biggest ever public information campaigns” to ensure individuals and businesses were ready for a no-deal exit.
Javid added that he planned to fund 500 new Border Force officers and look at new infrastructure around the country’s ports to minimise congestion and ensure goods could flow.
And Priti Patel, the new home secretary, told the Mail on Sunday that she would stop the “automatic right of entry for EU citizens, with or without work” in order to give the “type of preference to brilliant scientists, academics and highly skilled workers that we want to see more of”.
Gove and Javid are part of a new “war cabinet” of six key ministers to deliver Brexit by 31 October “by any means necessary”.
Rishi Sunak, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, then gave an interview on Sky News claiming that the government was “turbo-charging” no-deal preparations.
“Of course we would prefer to [leave] with a new deal, one that removes this anti-democratic backstop,” he said. “We are prepared to enter into negotiations with the spirit of friendship and determination but if the EU doesn’t want to do that it is right we are absolutely prepared for that. We are turbo-charging preparations for no deal. That is now the government’s number one priority.”
Johnson is pushing ahead with the preparations despite MPs pledging to fight across the parties to prevent no deal.
Philip Hammond , the former Conservative chancellor, held private talks with Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, shortly before Johnson entered Downing Street last Wednesday, to plot cross-party moves aimed at preventing the new prime minister agreeing to a no-deal Brexit.
However, Johnson’s new senior adviser Dominic Cummings has put the government on a war footing to face opponents in parliament and achieve an exit on 31 October with or without a deal. He told a meeting of the prime minister’s advisers that he had been tasked with delivering Brexit “by any means necessary”.
The following people are in Boris Johnson's first cabinet:
Sajid Javid, Chancellor
Dominic Raab, Foreign secretary
Priti Patel, Home secretary
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Robert Buckland QC, Lord Chancellor and Justice secretary
Stephen Barclay, Brexit secretary
Ben Wallace, Defence secretary
Matthew Hancock, Health secretary
Andrea Leadsom, Business secretary
Liz Truss, International trade secretary
Amber Rudd, Work and pensions secretary
Gavin Williamson, Education secretary
Theresa Villiers, Environment secretary
Robert Jenrick, Housing secretary
Grant Shapps, Transport secretary
Julian Smith, Northern Ireland secretary
Alister Jack, Scotland secretary
Alun Cairns, Wales secretary
Baroness Evans, Leader of the House of Lords
Nicky Morgan, DCMS secretary
Alok Sharma, International development secretary
James Cleverly, Party chair and minister without portfolio
These people also attend full cabinet meetings:
Rishi Sunak, Chief secretary to the Treasury
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons
Mark Spencer, Chief whip
Geoffrey Cox QC, Attorney General
Kwasai Kwarteng, Energy minister
Oliver Dowden, Paymaster general and minister for the Cabinet office
Jake Berry, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office
Esther McVey, Housing minister
Jo Johnson, Universities minister
Brandon Lewis, Security minister
There is growing speculation that this could include an election if parliament blocks the new government’s Brexit plans, even though Johnson has ruled that out.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said his party was ready for an election, telling Sky that he was “not in the slightest bit” fazed by going up against Johnson as a new prime minister.
Meanwhile, polls have suggested the Tories were boosted by a “Boris bounce” after the election of their new leader.
Since Johnson became prime minister, the Conservatives have gained 10 points to stand at 30%, new polling by Opinium for the Observer showed. The polling shows the Conservatives benefiting from an ebbing of support away from the Brexit party.
Despite being pushed into second place, Labour are also up three points to 28% at the expense of the Green party.