Brexit chaos: Disease, food shortages and price hikes: no-deal divorce from EU risks revealed


London: A no-deal Brexit could mean severe and long-lasting delays at British ports, significant electricity price hikes, medicine shortages and an increase in livestock disease, according to a secret document the UK government has been forced to publish.

There would be less fresh food and higher prices in the shops, exacerbated by potential panic buying and the lead-up to Christmas which is usually food retailers’ busiest time of year.

British Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove (left) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

British Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove (left) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.Credit:Bloomberg

The document, which describes “reasonable worst-case” assumptions for a no-deal Brexit and is dated August 2, was released in response to a motion passed on Monday by the British Parliament just before it was suspended, as well as a request from a Parliamentary committee.

However the government refused to supply other documents submitted to cabinet relating to Operation Yellowhammer, the UK’s plan to mitigate the risks of a no-deal Brexit, citing cabinet confidentiality.

And it also refused to obey an order to supply copies of private messages and emails among a group of nine government employees including ministerial advisers, who have been accused of plotting to suspend Parliament in order to stop it interfering in the government’s Brexit plans.

A souvenir shop for tourists displays mugs with Union Jacks. Britain's retail sector may be disrupted by a hard Brexit.

A souvenir shop for tourists displays mugs with Union Jacks. Britain's retail sector may be disrupted by a hard Brexit.Credit:Bloomberg

On Wednesday a Scottish court ruled the government had suspended Parliament illegally to allow it to “pursue a policy of a no-deal Brexit without further Parliamentary interference”, calling this an “egregious” failure of good governance.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said the Parliament’s request for documents, made in a “humble address” to the Queen that convention requires the government must answer, was an “unprecedented, inappropriate and disproportionate use” of the Parliament’s powers.

It went “far beyond any reasonable right of Parliament” and would require the government to carry out searches that would break several laws, Gove said.

The released Yellowhammer document appeared to be very similar to one leaked to The Sunday Times newspaper in August.

Brexit could make for a chaotic Christmas, the paper predicts.

Brexit could make for a chaotic Christmas, the paper predicts.Credit:Bloomberg

Gove said the document was “neither an impact assessment [nor] a prediction of what is most likely to happen”.

“It describes what could occur in a reasonable worst case scenario, thus providing a deliberately stretching context for government planning to ensure that we are prepared for Exit,” he said.

However a Times reporter said the document had been changed. She said the heading on the near-identical document she had received had called it a “base scenario”, while the one released on Wednesday was headed “Operation Yellowhammer reasonable worst case planning assumptions as of 2 August 2019”.

Gove said there were “revised assumptions” due to be released soon outlining new work the government had done preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

The document said:

- On the first day of a no-deal Brexit, between 50-85 per cent of commercial trucks planning to cross the English Channel may not be ready for French customs

- Unready trucks will “fill the ports and block flow” and could reduce the “flow rate” at ports by 40-60 per cent

- Trucks could face delays of 1½-2½ days before being able to cross the border

- The worst disruption to the Channel Straits might last three to six months before it improves, and there could be some disruption for “significantly longer”

- Medicines and medical products were “particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”, and some cannot be stockpiled due to short shelf lives

- Delay to veterinary medicines “would reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks” with wider impacts on animal health, the environment and food safety and availability, and stockpiling could not meet demand and air freight was not financially viable

- Small and medium-sized businesses are much less likely to have Brexit contingency plans, and may find it hard to get warehouse space for stockpiling

- There may be passenger delays at English Channel train and ferry terminals due to increased immigration checks

- Though demand for electricity and gas will be met, there will likely be significant electricity price increases for business and domestic consumers “with associated wider economic and political impacts”

- There will be less fresh food available and some food ingredients will be in shorter supply, which will “reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price” – a problem that will hit preparations for Christmas, the busiest time of year for food retailers

- There is also a risk that “panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption”

- Law enforcement data sharing between the UK and EU will be disrupted

- Protests and counter-protests, and a rise in public disorder and community tensions, could take place across the UK

- Traffic disruption near the ports, and “customer behaviour” (potential panic-buying and hoarding) could lead to fuel shortages across the country

- In Northern Ireland the “no new checks” policy to avoid the return of a hard border is “likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks".