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Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street
Downing Street unit to coordinate response to trio of feared threats to newly independent UK
Wednesday, December 9, 2020 – 11:00am
Boris Johnson has quietly assembled a Downing Street unit to organise the government’s response to a “nightmare scenario” of a no-deal Brexit, a surge in Covid-19 cases and winter flooding, Whitehall sources have revealed.
The “winter control and coordination cell” will be based in No. 10 and will provide daily confidential briefings to the prime minister on the trio of feared threats in the months ahead, The Times reports.
“Winter is always one of the most challenging times for the government, with pressures on the NHS alongside the risk of things like adverse weather events,” a Whitehall source told the paper. “The question is what happens when you combine all that with Covid and a no-deal Brexit.”
Ministers are reportedly worried that the EU will try to make life “difficult” for Britain, which may face more stringent checks at the border in Calais and tougher rules on handing out permits for UK lorries seeking to enter the bloc.
The unit’s existence has raised questions about the state of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, with Downing Street officials privately conceding that failure to secure a future trade deal with the EU is likely to result in widespread disruption.
Boris Johnson is preparing for last-ditch talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over dinner tonight in Brussels. EU sources told the BBC that their chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has briefed the bloc’s Europe ministers that talks were “tilting towards no deal being reached before the deadline”.
A failure to achieve a breakthrough during the face-to-face meeting between Johnson and von der Leyen would make a no-deal exit “much more likely, with some European leaders believed to be running out of patience”, adds Sky News.