The government has considered plans to declare martial law to calm any disorder following a no-deal Brexit, the health secretary has suggested.
Matt Hancock denied ministers were “specifically” planning for martial law, but did not rule it out either.
Civil servants have been considering how to use powers to in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to stop any rioting or civil disobedience, according to the Sunday Times.
The legislation makes provision for curfews, travel bans, the confiscation of property and in the most extreme case the deployment of troops, the newspaper said.
The move has been described by sources as the civil service “prepping” for all possibilities.
Quizzed about the possible imposition of martial law on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Hancock said: “I wouldn’t put a stress on that.
“Of course government all the time looks at all the options in all circumstances.”
When pressed, he said: “It remains on the statute book but it isn’t the focus of our attention.”
“Of course government all the time looks at all the options in all circumstances.”Health Secretary Matt Hancock
A Downing Street spokesperson added: “Respecting the referendum decision means leaving the EU.
“The PM has said that there will be disruption in the event of no deal, but as a responsible government we are taking the appropriate steps to minimise this disruption and ensure the country is prepared.”
Labour MP David Lammy, who supports the Best for Britain anti-Brexit campaign, said: “This is a full-blown crisis. The government is recklessly drawing up plans for a colossal act of self-harm.
“Through continuing on the path to Brexit, despite having achieved no consensus on a deal in parliament, the government is preparing to declare war on itself.
“The idea that the government has any mandate for this catastrophic scenario is ludicrous. The Leave campaign promised a stable new trading relationship with the EU after Brexit, not total isolation and soldiers in our airports.”
Hancock also distanced himself from leaked comments in November claiming he had said he could not guarantee NHS patients would not die in a no-deal scenario: “I didn’t quite say that. Cabinet discussions are meant to be secret.”
Hancock insisted that if the health sector prepares properly there will be no shortage of medicines in the event of no deal.
He said: “Now, if everybody does what they need to do then I’m confident that can continue and the pharmaceutical industry, who are responsible for building the stockpiles in case there are delays at the border, they have reacted so far in an exemplary manner.
“I think so long as everybody does what the need to do - now these things are always difficult, there are always from time-to-time shortages. We have to make sure we put in place what is necessary.”
It came as Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the government was unlikely to actively pursue a no-deal Brexit, but warned that it could happen if MPs do not approve a deal.
Mr Hinds told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I don’t envisage no deal becoming Government policy.
“We want to avoid a no deal. No deal would not be a good outcome.”
Meanwhile, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney made clear it would not countenance any watering down of the controversial backstop plan to maintain a soft border with Northern Ireland.
Theresa May is thought to be relaxed about moves by Tory MPs to pass amendments on Tuesday demanding the insurance policy is either removed from the Brexit deal, or time limited.
The amendments could give the prime minister a stronger negotiating hand with the EU by demonstrating what concessions could help the Brexit deal pass in the Commons.
But Coveney told Marr: “The European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it. It’s as simple as that.
“The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises. It was designed around British red lines.
“Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”
Hancock denied Mr Coveney’s comments meant Mrs May’s Brexit deal was “dead in the water”.
“Not at all,” the health secretary said. “That’s a negotiating position the Irish are taking, but I think it’s also extremely clear from that interview and the tone... Ireland doesn’t want to have a no-deal Brexit.
“The whole purpose of the backstop is to avoid a hard border, which risks being a consequence of a no-deal Brexit.
“The idea the EU and the Irish government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is intended to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen.”