LONDON — British firms trading with the European Union will face a tangle of red tape, possible delays at the border and cashflow disruption if the government is unable to negotiate an exit deal with Brussels before it leaves the bloc next March.
The Conservative government published a series of notes advising people and businesses how to protect themselves from the potential disruption of a 'no deal' break with the E.U. on Thursday, from stockpiling drugs to new paperwork for trade.
The documents say "people and businesses should not be alarmed" by the planning.
Britain has yet to reach a divorce agreement with the E.U. with little more than seven months to go until March 29 when it leaves the bloc. Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for a "business-friendly" deal has failed to impress negotiators in Brussels and has been heavily criticized at home.
Nevertheless, both sides maintain they are aiming to reach a deal in time.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain was determined to "manage the risks and embrace the opportunities" of Brexit.
He dismissed alarming headlines suggesting the U.K. could run out of sandwich supplies and other staples.
"You will still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit," he said in a speech in London.
Despite the upbeat tone, the documents reveal the scale of disruption to the British economy and daily life that could follow Brexit.
While the U.K. currently has customs-free trade with the 27 other EU countries, the documents say a no-deal Brexit would mean a much harder border.
In total around 80 technical notices are expected over the coming weeks. They will be closely scrutinized by industry to see how well prepared Britain is for an outcome many employers have warned will be hugely disruptive.
The government has maintained throughout the negotiation process that it is preparing for all possible outcomes, including 'no deal.'
Several ministers have warned that the risk of leaving without an agreement has increased. Earlier this month trade minister Liam Fox put the chances at 60-40.
Many economists say failure to agree exit terms would seriously damage the world's fifth-largest economy as trade with the E.U., Britain's largest market, would become subject to tariffs.
Supporters of Brexit say there may be some short-term pain for the economy, but that long-term it will prosper when cut free from the E.U..
The opposition Labour party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the talks with the E.U. were "going badly" and the publication of the documents on how to prepare for a no deal is a sign the government is "moving into panic mode".