Whitehall has discreetly started negotiations on No Deal planning amid fears trade talks with Brussels may collapse, The Mail on Sunday reported citing sources.
On Thursday, for instance, the EU Exit Operations Committee, dubbed XO and chaired by Michael Gove, assembled to start bracing for a “disorderly December” in the event Brussels fails to understand that “we really are going at the end of the year", the edition quoted a cabinet minister who was present as saying.
'No Bluffing on No Extension'
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s top aide on the Brexit proceedings, warned that Brussels is yet to “wake up” to Britain’s position on the issue and it will be several weeks before it does so.
“We are not bluffing on the no extension", the top No. 10 aide told government advisers at a Friday meeting. He brought up the Tories’ overwhelming triumph in the 12 December vote, saying Europe would be wrong to think that “a big majority means a softening of our position".
Brussels has “failed to grasp their judges will have no power and we are not interested in level playing fields", Cummings thundered.
In a much similar wording, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid invited a thorough reality check on what Brexit entails.
Javid commented to the Financial Times: “There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union and we will do this by the end of the year".
“We're ... talking about companies that have known since 2016 that we are leaving the EU", he added.
Official trade talks with the EU are not expected to kick off until next month, after Britain exits the EU as scheduled, with chief negotiator David Frost currently preparing the government’s “red lines” to be used in talks.
UK to US: 'We Mean Business'
Downing Street is also reportedly willing to engage in trade talks with the US, before promoting its objectives in Brussels, in a bid to ratchet up pressure on the latter, as well as to show the US that “we mean business and we are not messing around". The talks have been linked to Boris Johnson’s scheduled trip to Washington in February, where he is expected to deliver a speech before the US Congress.
The European Union earlier warned that its own trade mandate would not be agreed and formally adopted until 25 February with the bloc intending to start trade talks in March.
The EU has published a series of slides outlining its own negotiating goals stipulating much tougher demands for the UK to follow Brussels' would-be rules on tax, state aid, and environmental protection in exchange for a “zero-tariff” Free Trade Agreement.
Whitehall meanwhile reportedly awaits a post-Brexit purge as part of Johnson’s vows to invigorate his ministers, as the latter are supposed to get “effectively marks out of ten” based on their "ability to deliver the PM's agenda" – and would lose marks if they were perceived to be more concerned with building up their own "personal brand" by making appearances in broadcast studios.