In Depth

Operation Yellowhammer: ex-ministers accused of Brexit sabotage

Michael Gove claims leaked dossier on no-deal Brexit plan is out of date

Boris Johnson’s team has said a secret Whitehall dossier warning of food and medicine shortages and chaos at ports in the case of a no-deal Brexit was leaked to frustrate his efforts to secure a new deal to leave the European Union on 31 October.

Details of the file, marked “official-sensitive”, were published over the weekend in The Sunday Times. The newspaper claimed the plans had been compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the codename Operation Yellowhammer and said it “is remarkable because it gives the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s readiness for a no-deal Brexit”.

Under a no-deal scenario, the dossier said the government expects a return of a hard border with Ireland; a three-month meltdown at ports which could affect food, medicine and fuel supplies; delays at airports; a confrontation between UK and EU fishermen; protests across the UK; rising costs of social care; and severe delays at the border between Gibraltar and Spain.

However, a Downing Street insider rebutted the document, stating that it covered the worst-case scenario for a no deal, and accused Remain-supporting “former ministers” of “deliberately leaking” details of no-deal planning to damage Johnson’s meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel this week.

A source said: “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.

“Those obstructing preparation are no longer in Government, £2 billion of extra funding has already made available and Whitehall has been stood up to actually do the work through the daily ministerial meetings.”

The Financial Times reports “the prime minister will tell the leaders that unless the Irish border backstop is removed from the withdrawal agreement, he will be unwilling to engage in negotiations”.

Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of co-ordinating Whitehall preparations for Britain to leave the EU, said it was an “old document” that only looked at “what the very, very worst situation would be”. He said preparations had been stepped up since it was first compiled.

Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Kwasi Kwarteng, a minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that there was “a lot of scaremongering around and a lot of people are playing into Project Fear and all the rest of it”.

In a joint statement, two leading Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, said “the whole thing was an attempt to frighten us and didn’t stand up to scrutiny”.

They added: “The fact that this document was ‘found’ in a Westminster pub tells you all you need to know about this continuing establishment plot to sow fear in people's minds. This is an abuse of the proper use of the Civil Service and must be stopped.”

Former chancellor Philip Hammond has insisted neither he nor his allies leaked the document and accused Johnson of having “no negotiating strategy and no serious plan for a no-deal”.

A senior Whitehall source told the Sunday Times: “This is not Project Fear – this is the most realistic assessment of what the public face with no deal. These are likely, basic, reasonable scenarios – not the worst case.”

Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service who is advising Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, described the document as “credible” and said it “lays bare the scale of the risks we are facing with no-deal Brexit in almost every area”.

“These risks are completely insane for this country to be taking and we have to explore every avenue to avoid them,” he told the BBC.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, said the documents revealed that a no-deal Brexit had “wartime implications, in peacetime, all of them self-inflicted”.

The Sunday Telegraph has also revealed that Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, has now signed the “commencement order” that will trigger the end of the supremacy of EU law in the UK on Halloween, “in a major moment on the path to the country’s exit.

The repeal of the historic 1972 Brussels Act, “effectively ending all EU law in the UK” says CNN, will come into force on 31 October, when the UK is set to formally leave the EU.

With Brexit day fast approaching - but the Commons not due to convene for another two weeks - more than 100 parliamentarians from all sides of the House have written to Boris Johnson urging him to recall parliament immediately to deal with the “national emergency” the country faces.

Noting that parliament has been recalled multiple times in each decade since the Second World War for “a wide range of political, security and economic reasons”, MPs demanded that the Commons sit permanently until 31 October, “so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government”.

“A true democrat should not fear such scrutiny,” the group added. “The question is whether you are one.”

As well as demanding that parliament is recalled, the signatories said they objected to the prime minister’s populist style.

“In addition there is a creeping and disturbing populism taking over your discourse on the EU. You have used the language of fascism and authoritarianism in terms such as ‘collaboration’ to describe parliamentary colleagues who have the temerity to disagree with you.”


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