Fears of no-deal chaos as min­is­ters forced to pub­lish secret doc­u­ments

The Guardian - - Front Page - Heather Ste­wart Pe­ter Walker

A no-deal Brexit could re­sult in ris­ing food and fuel prices, dis­rup­tion to medicine supplies and pub­lic dis­or­der on Bri­tain’s streets, ac­cord­ing to secret doc­u­ments the govern­ment was forced by MPs to pub­lish last night.

A five-page doc­u­ment spelling out the govern­ment’s “plan­ning as­sump­tions” un­der Op­er­a­tion Yel­lowham­mer – its no-deal plan – was dis­closed in re­sponse to a “hum­ble ad­dress” mo­tion led by the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Do­minic Grieve.

The con­tent of the doc­u­ment was strik­ingly sim­i­lar to the plan leaked to the Sun­day Times in Au­gust, which the govern­ment dis­missed at the time as out of date and sources sug­gested had been leaked by dis­af­fected for­mer min­is­ters. That was de­scribed as a “base case”, but the new doc­u­ment, dis­closed just hours be­fore the 11pm dead­line set by MPs, claims to be a “worst-case sce­nario”.

It was re­leased as Down­ing Street was reel­ing from the shock judg­ment by a Scot­tish court that Boris John­son’s de­ci­sion to pro­rogue par­lia­ment was il­le­gal – a de­ci­sion it will now seek to have over­ruled by the supreme court.

Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments, the govern­ment is as­sum­ing that up to 85% of lor­ries cross­ing the Chan­nel might not be ready for a new French cus­toms regime – and the doc­u­ment high­lights the risk of ex­ten­sive de­lays.

“The lack of trader readi­ness com­bined with lim­ited space in French ports to hold ‘un­ready’ HGVs could re­duce the flow rate to 40-60% of current lev­els within one day as un­ready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” it warns.

This sit­u­a­tion could go on for three months and dis­rup­tion might last “sig­nif­i­cantly longer”, it adds, with lor­ries wait­ing be­tween one and a half and two and a half days to cross the bor­der.

The re­liance of med­i­cal supplies on cross-Chan­nel routes “make them par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to se­vere ex­tended de­lays”, the re­port says, with some medicines hav­ing such short shelf lives that they can­not be stock­piled. A lack of vet­eri­nary medicines could in­crease the risk of dis­ease out­breaks, it adds.

On food, supplies of “cer­tain types of fresh food” would be re­duced, the doc­u­ment warns, as well as other items such as pack­ag­ing.

It says: “In com­bi­na­tion, these two fac­tors will not cause an over­all short­age of food in the UK but will re­duce availabili­ty and choice of prod­ucts and will in­crease price, which could im­pact vul­ner­a­ble groups.”

Later, it adds: “Low in­come groups will be dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by any price rises in food and fuel.”

On law and or­der it warns: “Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may ab­sorb sig­nif­i­cant amounts of po­lice re­source. There may also be a rise in pub­lic dis­or­der and com­mu­nity

‘It is ir­re­spon­si­ble … to have tried to ig­nore these stark warn­ings’ Keir Starmer Shadow Brexit sec­re­tary

ten­sions.” The doc­u­ments also out­line a po­ten­tial im­pact on cross-bor­der fi­nan­cial ser­vices and law en­force­ment in­for­ma­tion shar­ing.

It says Gi­bral­tar could face sig­nif­i­cant de­lays on its bor­der with Spain, with four-hour waits likely “for at least a few months”.

The doc­u­ment also con­cedes that there will be a re­turn to some sort of hard Ir­ish bor­der de­spite a UK in­sis­tence it will not im­pose checks: “This model is likely to prove un­sus­tain­able due to sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic, le­gal and biose­cu­rity risks and no ef­fec­tive uni­lat­eral mit­i­ga­tions to ad­dress this will be avail­able.” The ex­pec­ta­tion, it adds, is that some busi­nesses will move to avoid tar­iffs, and oth­ers will face higher costs.

Keir Starmer MP, the shadow Brexit sec­re­tary, 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.”

One para­graph of the re­port re­mains redacted. And the govern­ment refused to com­ply with the sec­ond part of MPs’ re­quest, which de­manded the re­lease of mes­sages re­lat­ing to the sus­pen­sion of par­lia­ment sent by the PM’s se­nior ad­viser Do­minic Cum­mings and var­i­ous other aides on What­sApp, Face­book, other so­cial me­dia and both their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional phones.

In a let­ter to Grieve, the chan­cel­lor of the Duchy of Lan­caster, Michael Gove, said the re­quest was “in­ap­pro­pri­ate in prin­ci­ple and in practice, would on its own terms pur­port to re­quire the govern­ment to con­tra­vene the law, and is sin­gu­larly un­fair to the named in­di­vid­u­als”.

Grieve told MPs on Mon­day he had in­for­ma­tion from pub­lic of­fi­cials that the cor­re­spon­dence con­tained a “scan­dal”. The Commons voted, by

311 to 302, for the govern­ment to pub­lish the in­for­ma­tion, giving John­son a dead­line of 11pm last night.

Gove has been given the task of ramp­ing up no-deal prepa­ra­tions across govern­ment. The chan­cel­lor, Sa­jid Javid, set aside an ex­tra £2bn at last week’s spend­ing re­view for the task, tak­ing the to­tal now al­lo­cated to no-deal plan­ning to £8bn.

John­son has lost ev­ery vote in par­lia­ment since he be­came prime min­is­ter in July, in­clud­ing on his two at­tempts to trig­ger a snap gen­eral election next month.

The prime min­is­ter sparked a fierce back­lash in­side the Tory party last week by re­mov­ing the whip from 21 rebels who sup­ported back­bench-led leg­is­la­tion to force him to re­quest a Brexit de­lay if he fails to pass a new deal through par­lia­ment by mid-Oc­to­ber.

Those ex­pelled in­clude for­mer jus­tice sec­re­tary David Gauke, the for­mer chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, and Win­ston Churchill’s grand­son, Nicholas Soames. The chief whip, Mark Spencer, has now writ­ten to some of them con­firm­ing that they are en­ti­tled to ap­peal against the de­ci­sion.

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