Military officers have been drafted in to help ministers prepare for sudden upheaval in the event of a no-deal Brexit, HuffPost UK has learned.
And with the delay of the Commons vote on the prime minister’s Brexit deal, it has become more likely that contingency planning will need to be ramped up, raising the prospect of even more armed forces personnel being seconded to Whitehall.
A Whitehall source suggested the situation was “like the Olympics bail out”, when some 4,700 troops were drafted in to fill a shortfall of security and other staff in 2012, which contractors G4S failed to provide.
Conservative and Labour critics seized on the revelation as evidence the UK is critically unprepared for the eventuality of no-deal, although former Brexit minister and staunch Tory Eurosceptic Steve Baker insisted people should not “hyperventilate” about it.
Military staff are particularly concentrated in the Home Office, which has faced huge criticism this year over the Windrush scandal, to help with planning for the potential introduction of new border controls and checks.
Forces personnel are also working with the Department for Transport to help with contingency plans for ports like Dover, where the Road Haulage Association has warned of “crippling” and giant traffic jams if customs controls are introduced between the UK and EU in the event of no deal.
They are also involved in plans to charter ships to ensure critical supply lines of food and medicines if the Dover-Calais crossing is choked up in the event of no deal.
It would be utterly and grossly irresponsible for the prime minister to knowingly lead us over the cliff into a chaotic no deal exit for which we are so unprepared that the army will need to be drafted inSenior Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston
Baker, a lead member of the hard Eurosceptic Tory European Research Group (ERG), told HuffPost UK: “I was proud to work in the department for exiting the European Union with an exceptionally talented senior military officer. Drawing the best staff in is nothing new and people ought not to hyperventilate about it.”
But senior Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who supports a so-called People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, said: “That wasn’t on the side of the bus. It would be utterly and grossly irresponsible for the prime minister to knowingly lead us over the cliff into a chaotic no deal exit for which we are so unprepared that the army will need to be drafted in.”
Labour shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook said: “The fact ministers have called in the military is proof of how unprepared the Government are for exiting without a deal.
“The Government has wasted much of the last two years fighting with itself rather than working for a deal that could command widespread support. As a result, Theresa May has run down the clock while also failing to plan properly for the consequences of no deal.
“Rather than sending in the troops, Ministers should be ruling out no deal and working flat out to break the impasse in the Brexit process.”
The government has already being hiring specialists to help the UK cope with any “civil emergencies” that could arise due to Britain leaving the EU.
And the head of the armed forces General Sir Nick Carter said last month the Army was “ready to help” in the event of a no deal Brexit, and was “thinking hard” about “sensible contingency plans”.