UK military, businesses preparing for ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

UK's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives on March 21, 2019 in Brussels on the first day of an EU summit focused on Brexit. European Union leaders meet in Brussels on March 21 and 22, for the last EU summit before Britain's scheduled exit of the union. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019

UK military, businesses preparing for ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

  • May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in attempt to get support for Brexit delay
  • The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent

LONDON: Britain's defense ministry has started up a no-deal Brexit operations centre in a nuclear-bomb-proof bunker in central London, a spokesman said on Thursday.

"It's a team that's ready to support any action if it becomes necessary," the spokesman said, adding that the new centre has "all the right infrastructure".

"As we get closer to a theoretical or possible no-deal, this is the place where the response could be co-ordinated", the spokesman said.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal, unless one can be agreed in time or an Brexit extension is implemented.

The defense ministry in December said 3,500 military personnel would be on stand-by to help government departments for "any contingencies" in case of a no-deal outcome.

The spokesman said those troops were now "at readiness."

The military's crisis management operation for a no-deal Brexit, which is dubbed "Operation Redfold", was activated at the beginning of this week.

UK companies have also ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit as best they can over the past couple of months, the Bank of England said.

With the prospect of a chaotic Brexit potentially eight days away, a survey by the central bank’s agents showed that around 80 percent of companies “judged themselves ready” for such a scenario, in which the country crashes out of the European Union with no deal and no transition to new trading arrangements with the bloc. That’s up from around 50 percent in an equivalent survey in January.

To prepare, some firms have moved jobs and operations to the EU to continue to benefit from its seamless trade. Many have had to learn how to file customs declarations and adjust labels on goods. Exporters of animals are learning about health checks they will need to comply with.

According to the bank’s survey, however, many of those companies preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit said “there were limits to the degree of readiness that was feasible in the face of the range of possible outcomes in that scenario.”

There’s only so much companies can do, for example, to prepare for new tariffs and exchange rate movements.

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Britain appears headed for a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29 if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement with the EU.

She met with EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to get support for a delay to the country’s departure date to June 30. EU leaders have said a short extension would have to be conditional on her Brexit plan getting parliamentary backing and have indicated they would only be willing to back a delay to May 22, the day before elections to the European Parliament.

After two heavy rejections in parliament, there are doubts as to whether she will be able to get parliamentary approval. What would happen next is uncertain.

European leaders, including those from France and Luxembourg, have said any extension will be granted dependent on May's deal passing a third parliamentary vote.

The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent within months, though Governor Mark Carney has indicated the recession will be less savage, partly because of heightened preparedness.

According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, at which the main interest rate was kept at 0.75 percent, rate-setters warned “Brexit uncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment.”

Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years. In 2018, the economy grew by 1.4 percent, its lowest rate since 2012, even during what was then a global upswing. Business investment was down 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the year before.
 


Bin Laden anthrax scientist under house arrest after jail

Updated 22 November 2019

Bin Laden anthrax scientist under house arrest after jail

  • Sufaat, 55, recruited militants, tried making biological weapon agent near Afghan airport

KUALA LUMPUR: A US-educated biochemist with links to Al-Qaeda and Daesh was on Wednesday released from prison by Malaysian authorities.

Yazid Sufaat, who recruited militants for the terror groups and tried to help Osama bin Laden develop anthrax for use as a biological weapon, will remain under heavy police watch.

The 55-year-old walked free from the Simpang Renggam penitentiary in Johor and was sent to his home in Bandar Baru Ampang in Selangor, on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

He has been placed under house arrest and will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device, said Royal Malaysia Police counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay. In addition, Sufaat would not be allowed to leave his home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and had been barred from using the internet.

The scientist, who trained militants for the late terror group leader Bin Laden and spent several months trying to produce anthrax in a laboratory near Kandahar airport in Afghanistan, has been jailed three times in the past 17 years on various terrorism-related charges.

He was first arrested in December 2001 and sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2013, the former military officer was convicted of recruiting members for Daesh and received a four-year jail term, and in 2017 he was arrested again for Al-Qaeda recruitment among fellow inmates.

In the 1990s, Sufaat joined Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian extremist group led by Indonesian militants. In 2000, he acquired four tons of ammonium nitrate for a series of foiled bomb attacks in Singapore.

Months before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, he hosted meetings for senior Al-Qaeda members, during which they “spoke about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

Dr. Danial Yusof, who leads a research unit on extremism at the International Islamic University Malaysia, told Arab News that the decision by the Prevention of Terrorism Board (POTB) to release Sufaat came after an evaluation process that included agencies such as the Royal Malaysia Police, prisons department and the Ministry of Home Affairs, and which put “national security as primary consideration for release.”

Sufaat will be required to report to local police twice a week and can only leave the vicinity of his house with written permission from the Selangor police chief.

According to Yusof, the measures were aimed at preventing Sufaat from reoffending and carrying out further recruitment.

Meanwhile, he said a major challenge for Malaysia’s deradicalization and rehabilitation program, would be the repatriation of around 140 former Malaysian followers of Daesh who are expected to return from Syria and Iraq.

With many of them being women and children, it would be a “test for Malaysia’s compassionate approach in counterviolence and extremism,” he added.

Yusof noted that Sufaat’s case could serve as a “reference point” for deradicalization of the individuals and their reintegration
into society.

However, Nasir Abbas, a former senior member of JI who is now involved in the Indonesian government’s deradicalization program, told Arab News on Thursday that rehabilitation efforts had so far failed to change Sufaat. 

“He still wants to engage in violent jihad. I am sure that once he is free, he will still campaign his cause to ordinary people,” he said.