Boris Johnson will head to Berlin and Paris this week in a bid to secure a new Brexit deal, as Number 10 sought to play down a secret Whitehall no-deal dossier.
During trips to Germany and France, he will tell the leaders “there must be a new deal to replace the failed Brussels deal” – but if one cannot be struck, the UK is prepared to leave the EU on 31 October without an agreement.
The meetings with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron come after leaked documents detailed the potentially dire “aftershocks” of a no-deal outcome.
The “Operation Yellowhammer” documents, published by the Sunday Times, warn that Britain will be hit with a three-month “meltdown” at its ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine if the UK leaves without an agreement.
“This is not Project Fear, this is the most realistic assessment of what the public face with no deal. These are likely, basic, reasonable scenarios – not the worst case,” a senior Whitehall source told the newspaper.
The documents also claim that petrol tariffs would “inadvertently” lead to the closure of two oil refineries, while protests across the UK could “require significant amounts of police resources” in a no-deal scenario.
However a Number 10 source said: “This document is from when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to get ready to leave and the funds were not available.
“It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.
The source added that £2bn of extra funding has been already made available, and Whitehall has been stood up to actually do the work through the daily ministerial meetings.
Number 10 said it expects there to be “very little discussion” of Brexit during the visit to Berlin on Wednesday and Paris on Thursday, with other topics to be the focus.
Discussions are expected to centre around the next G7 summit in Biarritz, France, next weekend, with trade, foreign policy, security and the environment set to be on the table. Mr Johnson will also likely meet with US president Donald Trump for talks.
Number 10 said the prime minister would discuss issues such as climate change with his fellow leaders, adding: “The EU are our closest neighbours and whatever happens we want a strong relationship after we leave.”
Michael Gove, the cabinet minister responsible for no-deal planning, insisted Yellowhammer represented a “worst-case scenario”, adding that “significant” steps have been taken in the last three weeks to accelerate Brexit planning.
He admitted there “will be some bumps in the road, some element of disruption in the event of no-deal” and that preparations have been stepped up since the documents were first published.
Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng – who attends cabinet – also dismissed a rise in “scaremongering” about no-deal.
“A lot of people are playing into project fear and all the rest of it,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Mr Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU “do or die” on 31 October.
However the debate continues to rage as to who could become a caretaker prime minister in the event of a successful vote of no confidence in the government to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he is best suited to taking on the role, and has refused to say whether he would step aside and support a government of national unity if he cannot win over enough support.