Fears of no-deal chaos as ministers forced to publish secret documents
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was strikingly similar to the plan leaked to the Sunday Times in August, which the government dismissed at the time as out of date and sources suggested had been leaked by disaffected former ministers.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.