Brexit preparations run on in spite of impending delay

It was meant to be a commemorative coin, a reminder in your pocket that the UK had left the EU on October 31. But with the departure set to be delayed once again next week, millions of 50p “Brexit coins” are just one government initiative having to be hastily reconsidered.

With scant acknowledgment this week, Boris Johnson broke a commitment to his party and country of quitting the bloc on October 31 “come what may, do or die”.

A new departure date is set to be confirmed with EU leaders in the coming days, meaning that plans revolving around exit day will have to change.

Although the legal stance remains that the UK is leaving the EU on October 31, few in Whitehall believe that this will take place and officials are preparing to stand down their plans.

One ministerial aide said: “Although it’s obvious we’re not leaving next week, nothing will officially change until the legal default of October 31 shifts.”

Alternative arrangements are being made for plans tied to the October 31 date, including the coins. The special run of 10m 50p pieces stamped “Friendship with all nations” and dated October 31, 2019 has been put on hold. At least 3m of the coins were due to be ready for exit day, with the rest emerging next year.

“We have paused production of the Brexit coin, and will take a final decision in due course,” a Treasury spokesperson said. It is unknown how many of the 50p coins have been produced and whether any will be allowed to leave the Royal Mint, which could make them a collector’s item.

Another tricky matter is the government’s “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign. The £100m advertising blitz, which has alerted businesses and consumers to the preparations needed to leave the EU, has been running since the beginning of September across the country on billboards, social media, TV and radio.

The adverts have been tied specifically to the October 31 exit date. Despite the impending confirmation of a Brexit delay, the campaign is continuing. A government spokesperson said it was “still live”.

The Department for Transport may also have to change its plans for a potential no-deal exit. Earlier this month, an £86.6m contract was signed for ferries in the event of such a departure. Four companies were commissioned to deliver extra capacity in order to secure vital medicines.

The Financial Times reported that the contract has a cancellation fee of £11.5m. The status of the contract has not currently changed; it is unknown whether the ferries will continue to be kept on hold while the government tries to pass Mr Johnson’s deal or hold a general election.

Whitehall officials said that Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s planning for no deal, was “currently stood up” until a decision was made if or when the legal date of departure changed.

In Downing Street and government departments, countdown clocks to October 31 continue to insist there are six days to Brexit. “It was alarming to see it flip into single digits this week. It felt like Brexit was really going to happen,” said one official with a clock in their office. “I guess we’ll have to reset them once again.”

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