Official no-deal document confirms government planning for delays, disruption and disorder

Operation Yellowhammer report forced out of government by MPs confirms leaks which ministers had dismissed as outdated

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 11 September 2019 21:22
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Official assessments forced out of the government by MPs have confirmed doomsday warnings of the impact of a no-deal Brexit which ministers dismissed as outdated only weeks ago.

Labour called on the prime minister to “admit that he has been dishonest” about the potential consequences of leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October, which some ministers have played down as “bumps in the road”.

The Operation Yellowhammer paper released after Boris Johnson’s failure to fend off an emergency Commons motion on Monday confirms that ministers are planning for the possibility of two-and-a-half day delays at Channel ports, food price hikes affecting vulnerable people, public disorder and disruption to medicine supplies.

When details of the report were leaked to The Sunday Times in August, cabinet no-deal supremo Michael Gove insisted that the details were out-of-date and had been prepared for Theresa May’s administration, since when the government had taken “significant additional steps” to prepare.

But the official five-page “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions” released hours before the Wednesday-evening deadline set by MPs was little changed from the leaked version, other than its title, which previously stated that it was a “base scenario”.

It warns that:

  • Up to 85 per cent of lorries will be unprepared for new customs checks imposed by France on day one after a no-deal Brexit;
  • Queues at Channel ports could reduce the flow of trucks to 40-60 per cent of current levels within a day, with the worst disruption lasting up to three months. Even after that time traffic flows may reach only 50-70 per cent of current flow levels and delays could continue for “significantly longer”;
  • Disruption in the ports will cause “significant” queues in Kent and other routes to France and will have an impact on the supply of medicines and medical supplies;
  • There will not be “an overall shortage of food” in the UK, but the choice of products will reduce and prices increase. Low income groups will be “disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel”;
  • Shortages of chemicals could affect the supply of clean water to hundreds of thousands of people, requiring “urgent action”, though the risk of this is rated “low”.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “These documents confirm the severe risks of a no-deal Brexit, which Labour has worked so hard to block. It is completely irresponsible for the government to have tried to ignore these stark warnings and prevent the public from seeing the evidence.

“Boris Johnson must now admit that he has been dishonest with the British people about the consequence of a no-deal Brexit. It is also now more important than ever that parliament is recalled and has the opportunity to scrutinise these documents and take all steps necessary to stop no-deal.”

And former justice secretary David Gauke – who was expelled from the Conservatives by Mr Johnson last week – said: “If anyone wondered why so many ministers in the last government are strongly opposed to a no-deal Brexit, read the Yellowhammer documents.

“But the problems with no deal don’t end with the short-term disruption. It’s in the long term when the real damage will be done.”

The six-page Operation Yellowhammer document contains a short passage which has been blacked out, understood to contain warnings that government policies on 0 per cent petrol import tariffs after Brexit will “inadvertently” lead to big financial losses for the industry and the closure of two refineries with around 2,000 direct job losses. The leaked version of the passage warned that resulting strike action at refineries “would lead to disruptions to fuel availability for 1-2 weeks in the regions they directly supply”.

But the legible portions paint a picture of disruption affecting the whole UK, with the vulnerable likely to be hit particularly hard.

It warns that “certain types of fresh food supply will decrease” and key ingredients, chemicals and packaging used by the food industry may be “in shorter supply”.

Due to the timing of Brexit, the harvest season will be over and the supply chain will be under “increased pressure” due to preparations for Christmas.

Government “will not be able to fully anticipate all potential impacts to the agrifood supply chain”, states the document. “There is a risk that panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption.”

Keir Starmer

Protests can be expected across the UK and may take up “significant” amounts of police resources, and there may be “a rise in public disorder and community tensions”, the paper states.

It admits that, while ministers insist they have no intention of imposing border controls on the Northern Irish side of the border with the Republic, this “is likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks”, with pressure to agree new arrangements for the border “within days or weeks”.

Cross-border commerce on the island of Ireland will be “severely” disrupted, leading to higher cost for consumers, businesses closing or relocating and job losses.

This is likely to lead to protests, direct action and roadblocks as well as a surge in the criminal and dissident black market in border communities.

Across the UK, public and business readiness for no deal will be “at a low level”, partly due to “increasing EU Exit fatigue” resulting from repeated delays to Brexit day.

The fact that Brexit would be happening in the run-up to Christmas is likely to limit the availability of warehouses, and winter weather, flooding or seasonal flu outbreaks could exacerbate impacts and stretch public resources, the document states.

The timing of the first post-Brexit day on a Friday – rather than during the weekend, as expected when the original 29 March date was set – is “not to our advantage”, particularly as exit day will coincide with the additional traffic linked to the end of half-term holidays in some areas.

Disruption to veterinary medicines would “reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks”, with potential detrimental effects on animal welfare and on the control of diseases which can affect humans, the document states.

Fuel supplies could be disrupted in London and the southeast, particularly if queues in Kent block the Dartford Crossing over the Thames. And panic buying at the pumps could also lead to shortages in other parts of the country.

Business and holiday travellers could face increased immigration checks, with delays at Eurotunnel and Dover terminals, as well as at arrivals in EU ports and airports.

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Although energy supplies would not run out, there are likely to be “significant” price hikes.

UK citizens on the continent can be expected to lose the rights of EU nationals, with a “mixed picture” on how each of the 27 member states will treat them, warns the Yellowhammer document. Rights to healthcare for UK state pensioners and tourists in EU states will stop abruptly on 1 November, requiring additional insurance in some cases. A minority of Britons falling ill abroad could face “substantial” costs.

Up to 282 EU and EEA fishing vessels could enter UK waters illegally on day one, causing “anger and frustration” among British fishermen which could lead to “clashes” between boats. Pressures on the authorities may put at risk their ability to deal with illegal fishing, smuggling and illegal migration, violent disputes or blockading of ports.

An expected increase in inflation could “significantly” affect adult social care providers and lead to companies failing over the six months after Brexit. Providers’ resources could be stretched by disruption affecting staff and transport.

Some cross-border financial services will be disrupted, as will the flow of personal data between the UK and the remaining EU. Data and information sharing between law enforcement agencies will be reduced.

Gibraltar will see disruption to supplies of goods, food and medicine and delays of four hours or more for workers and travellers crossing the border into Spain, adversely affecting its economy.

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