Scottish police chiefs have put planned officer cuts on hold as they brace for potential Brexit chaos.

Insiders have long warned that Scotland’s thin blue line could be stretched if UK leaving the European Union sparks trouble.

Crucially, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has already said his force was on standby to send officers to Northern Ireland where there are fears Brexit will jeopardise the peace process.

Now Police Scotland has formally announced that it will not reduce officer numbers by 300 in the coming financial year, as previously planned, and that it will bring forward a recruitment drive to this spring.

The decision, which will further tighten the squeeze on the force’s non-payroll budget, comes amid continued uncertainty at Westminster over Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May has urged MPs to back her deal “for the country’s sake” in a crucial “meaningful” vote to take place on Tuesday.

Speaking in Stoke, Mrs May also welcomed EU reassurances it did not want to use the so-called backstop, the fallback plan to stop a hard border across Ireland.

The threat of a return to violence or disorder across the North Channel has played a key role in law enforcement planning for Brexit.

So too have concerns over delays to food and other imports and people at UK borders, Mr Livingstone said late last year.

Government officials this weekend, citing an unpublished report, insisted people would have “enough calories” to survive disruption at ports and airports though some fresh products may run out.

Police Scotland and its watchdog, the Scottish Police Authority, laid out their plans on recruitment and retention in a formal submission to Holyrood on the government’s draft budget.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, they said, has signalled that Brexit could force changes on his budget, which currently includes more than £1 billion for policing.

But they said: “No additional funding has as yet been allocated for this.”

The statement said: “In order to fulfil his responsibilities the Chief Constable has decided to bring forward the recruitment of 120 officers in this financial year to ensure capacity and resilience is in place to prepare against a range of contingencies associated with Brexit.”

It added: “For 2019-20 it would not be appropriate to reduce, in the first half of the financial year, the service by 300 officers, as has been budgeted for. In practice the service will front load its recruitment for the year while considering what measures would be necessary to remain within budget.”

Mr Livingstone’s civilian deputy, David Page, has been “tasked with identifying savings in the current year to redirect funding to develop this additional capacity”.

Mr Page late last year warned there were “major concerns” over assumptions needed to cut costs, including the rise of calls on mental health and the challenge of Brexit. He said the force would be focusing on “keeping the lights on”.

It used to cost £1.192 billion to rum Scotland’s old eight territorial forces and national units like the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.

The draft budget for 2019-20 is £1.095 billion, including an assumption that the total number of police officers will fall buy 300.

Police sources have been warning of rising strains on the system - including picking up more mental health cases - as budgets tighten.

The Scottish Police Federation had lobbied Holyrood for more money. Writing before Mr Mackay unveiled his budget, its general secretary, Calum Steele, told MSPs the force would need 900 extra officers to deal with Brexit chaos alone.

Mr Steele said problems with food and medicines could lead to civil disobedience and greater crime.

Police Scotland and the SPA , meanwhile, strongly signalled they were unhappy with the budget’s capital investments, of under £40m a year, especially as they struggle to upgrade ageing IT systems.

They said: “A significant under-investment in technology stretching back many years before Police Scotland has a number of serious implications.

“Many of the systems are out of date, are not joined up and cannot be upgraded.”

It added: “We estimate a proportionate capital grant for an organisation of the size and scope of policing would be in the order of £90m per year, and the draft capital settlement of £39.6 million clearly falls well short of that position.”