[WATCH] Government to run drill for eventuality of no-deal Brexit

Drill for all government departments and entities on how they will react in case of no-deal Brexit to be carried out 'at the appropriate time'

European Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis addressed a press conference on the government's preparedness for a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
European Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis addressed a press conference on the government's preparedness for a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Government to run drill for eventuality of no-deal Brexit

The government will be running a Brexit drill for all its departments to gauge their reaction in the case of a no-deal withdrawal.

The drill will apply to all relevant governmental entities, and will include readiness testing on issues ranging from how British tourists will be processed at Malta's airport to how customs will deal with imports and exports.

European Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis, addressing a press conference on Brexit preparedness on Tuesday, said there was no date yet set for the drill, but that the government was monitoring the fluid situation and would identify the best time to carry it out.

"The drill will be a horizontal one and will cover various departments which need to be prepared," Zammit Lewis said, "We haven't set a date yet, but we are following developments and will act accordingly."

The government's campaign slogan - Brexit: be prepared - showed that it was gearing itself up for every eventuality, the minister said.

"Brexit is something which will affect all Maltese citizens, Malta's enterprises, and also Maltese in the UK and British citizens in Malta. This is not an abstract concept - we have to work on practical things," he said. 

"We are focusing on a no deal, because if the withdrawal agreement comes into place, we know what this will entail. The biggest challenge will come into play if the UK leaves with a deal, and there is a probability that this happen."

The Brexit situation was being monitored closely by the government and discussed every day, he said.

"This is a process, especially considering we don't know the end game. The Brexit date remains 31 October, although in the UK a law has been passed which ties the British Prime Minister to demand an extension if no deal is reached by that date. The Prime Minister [Boris Johnson], however, insisting he is not bound by this.

"Whatever happens, we will safeguard our country and our citizens in all that they do to ensure the least inconvenience."

Principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar said the possibility of a no-deal Brexit grew a number of months ago, and at this stage work started to prepare for this worst-case scenario.

"This issue goes above and beyond British citizens in Malta, into areas such as medicine, customs and aviation. There are a very many areas which can be impacted. Government departments rose up to the occasion to be prepared. Since then, we have remained active and updating things," Cutajar said.

Brexit unit head Glenn Micallef said a number of preparations, both at EU and national level, had been put in place to prepare for the possibility of the UK withdrawing from the Union without an agreement.

He underlined that, should it leave without a deal in October, the UK will be considered a third-country as from 1 November.

The government's Brexit helpline, 153, had been receiving an increasing influx of calls as the probability of the UK crashing out without an agreement grows.

In light of this, the government had been holding informative meetings various stakeholders which are likely to be impacted, including the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) and importers and exporters.

Below are some of the most salient points highlighted by Micallef which will apply if a no-deal Brexit materialises:

  • British citizens in Malta: the government has introduced a legal notice allowing UK citizens who arrive in Malta before 31 October to apply for a special status, which will ensure their rights are protected in terms of access to the job market, access to education, access to health and social services.
  • Maltese and other EU citizens in the UK: the British Home Office has put into effect an EU settlement scheme for EU citizens who arrived in the UK before 31 October. Such citizens have to apply for the status by the end of 2020. Anyone going to the UK after 2020 will be allowed in based on a point-based systems. For anyone going to the UK between 31 October and the end of 2020, there will be new rules in terms of checks and tests. Any EU citizens staying in the UK for 90 days or less will not need a visa. The Maltese government is appealing to all travellers to have a valid passport when travelling to the UK after 31 October. 
  • Maltese businesses: the government has launched schemes to assist businesses and check-lists will be drawn up to help businesses in terms of what they need to do to be prepared.
  • Customs: there will be a significant increase in work for customs officials, especially since there are 12 inbound and 12 outbound flights to and from the UK each day. The Maltese customs department has trained its staff accordingly, and its administrative human resources have been boosted.
  • Health: the bi-lateral healthcare agreement between Malta and the UK will remain in place. This includes emergency care for those travelling to the UK for short periods. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will not remain valid in the UK.
  • Medicines: Malta's government has strived to find alternative sources for medicines imported from the UK, and where this wasn't possible, medication from Britain has been stockpiled.
  • Transport: Various EU legislation has been put in place and will come into effect automatically in the case of a no-deal. This should ensure there are no disruptions, including in air traffic. Direct flights between the EU and UK should not be impacted. There is an expiry date for this regulation, but it is hoped that until this date arrives a more permanent arrangements will be in place.
  • Car imports to Malta: there will be new rules on customs importation of vehicles, their VAT and registration procedures.
  • Tourism to Malta: this will be affected indirectly. The government is increasing its work to attract tourists from the UK given Brexit hurdles for British citizens.
  • Employment: British citizens who were in Malta before Brexit and who apply for special status will not need an employment permit. There will be new rules for those who arrive after Brexit.
  • Education: Contingency plans have been put in place regarding the Erasmus exchange programme. If any student had already started an Erasmus programme in the UK before Brexit and was promised a grant, this will not change after a no-deal Brexit. Once Brexit happens, it is yet to be seen if the UK will keep participating in Erasmus.
  • Security: the UK will lose its access to exclusive EU security systems, such as Schengen. There are other ways Malta will keep cooperating on matters of security with the UK, including through Interpol.

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