No-deal Brexit: Documents on food and medicine shortages should be kept secret to avoid scaring public, minister says

'Putting out there all of the possible permutations of what could happen actually just serves to concern people', Andrea Leadsom claims

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 11 September 2019 12:51 BST
Andrea Leadsom on Operation Yellowhammer documents: 'I do not think it serves people well'

Documents warning of food, fuel and medicine shortages after a no-deal Brexit should be kept secret because they will scare people, a government minister says.

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, signalled Boris Johnson will defy parliament’s order to release the Operation Yellowhammer dossier – arguing the public was better left in the dark.

“I actually do not think that it serves people well to see what is the absolutely worst thing that can happen,” Ms Leadsom said.

She then downplayed the risks set out by civil servants – of delays at ports of up to two-and-a-half days and disruption lasting three months – to akin to the small danger of being knocked over by a car.

“The worst thing that could happen to me is I could walk out of here and get run over,” she told the BBC’s Breakfast Time programme.

“It is not a prediction, but it is something that could happen and simply putting out there all of the possible permutations of what could happen actually just serves to concern people – whereas what the government is doing is working flat out to ensure that in all circumstances, including in the event of no-deal, that we have a smooth transition for the United Kingdom.”

The comments come as the clock ticks down to the deadline of 11pm tonight for the government to comply with parliament’s instruction to release the Yellowhammer documents.

MPs voted by 311 to 302 in favour on Monday, in yet another defeat for the prime minister led by Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general.

Downing Street has yet to say if it will comply with the order, but may agree to release some of the less-damaging information.

The Yellowhammer file also warned that efforts to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland are likely to prove “unsustainable”, with “significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks” that would require checks.

“Disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockages,” it concluded.

Ministers were forced to acknowledge that, far from being “out of date" as they initially claimed, the dossier had been put together at the start of August.

The 11pm deadline also applies to WhatsApp, Facebook, text messages and personal emails from No 10 advisers, in a bid to prove Mr Johnson prorogued parliament because of Brexit, despite his denials.

That controversy has been given a rocket boost today by the shock decision, by the Court of Sessions in Scotland, that the prime minister misled the Queen over the true reason.

Downing Street sources have said that “under no circumstances” would aides hand over their personal correspondence to MPs.

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