British government puts troops on standby for no-deal Brexit

The British government will keep some 3500 troops on standby for contingency plans if Britain leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement in March, the UK defence secretary says.

Gavin Williamson was asked in parliament if he had already received requests for assistance from other government departments in case of a no-deal Brexit.

"We've as yet not had any formal request from any government department, but what we are doing is putting contingency plans in place," he told MPs on Tuesday.

"And what we will do is have 3500 service personnel held at readiness - including regulars and reserves - in order to support any government department on any contingencies they may need."

Mr Williamson's comments came after the government said it would implement plans for a no-deal Brexit in full and begin telling businesses and citizens to prepare for the risk of leaving the EU without an agreement.

With just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May is yet to win the support of a deeply divided parliament for the deal she struck last month with Brussels to maintain close ties with the EU.

She has said a delayed vote on her deal will take place in mid-January, prompting some MPs to accuse her of trying to force parliament into backing her by running down the clock as the March 29 exit day approaches.

Ms May, who last week survived a confidence vote in her Conservative Party, has warned MPs that the alternatives to her deal are leaving without an agreement or no Brexit.

Her spokesman said while the government's priority remained leaving with a deal - which was the most likely scenario - it would now implement its no-deal plans "in full".

"Cabinet agreed ... we have now reached the point where we need to ramp up these preparations. This means we will now set in motion the remaining elements of our no-deal plans," the spokesman said.

"Cabinet also agreed to recommend businesses now also ensure they are similarly prepared, enacting their own no-deal plans as they judge necessary.

"Citizens should also prepare," he added, saying that after no-deal guidance issued earlier this year, further detailed advice would be published soon.

The spokesman said plans included setting aside space on ferries in order to ensure a regular flow of medical supplies.

Leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said the government was trying to scare MPs, businesses and the public with "the threat of a no-deal".

Earlier this month, finance minister Philip Hammond said he had made more than £4.2 billion (NZ$7.5 billion) available for Brexit planning since the 2016 referendum and would be allocating a further £2 billion (NZ$ 3.6 billion) of that to government departments.

Britain's economy has slowed since the 2016 Brexit vote and there is no guarantee that businesses and consumers will retain tariff-free access to EU goods after leaving the bloc.

Reuters