Ministers and government sources have been briefing frantically to dismiss their own secret report as “project fear” and “scaremongering.”
Classified government documents on the impact of a no-deal Brexit have been leaked on the eve of Boris Johnson’s first visit to European leaders as Prime Minister.
The classified reports warns of low levels of public and business readiness for a no-deal Brexit and detail how ill-prepared Whitehall is for food and medicine shortages, transport disruption and civil unrest expected in a no-deal eventuality.
The Sunday Times was leaked the government document produced for the Cabinet Office marked “classified” and warning of fuel shortages, food price hikes and stockpiling and an inability to stop a hard border in Ireland.
A Downing Street source claimed the extensive report had been leaked by a former minister as speculation continued over the source of the leak of documents only intended to be seen by the highest echelons of the government.
And yet members of the cabinet that produced this report they never wanted to share with the public fell over themselves to insist that the document outlining readiness for a no-deal Brexit produced by their own government was somehow “project fear” or describing “the worst scenario.”
This despite the embarrassing documents purporting to be a description of the latest preparedness for leaving the EU with no-deal.
Kwasi Kwarteng appeared on Sky News’ Sophie Ridge show and sought to play down his government’s study, insisting a “lot of people” were playing into “Project Fear” following the leak of documents on the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer, which detailed the “most likely aftershocks” of the UK crashing out of the EU.
Michael Gove – the Cabinet minister responsible for no-deal planning – insisted the emergency assessment dubbed “Yellowhammer” represented a “worst-case scenario.”
Published by the Sunday Times, the documents warn that Britain will be hit with a three-month “meltdown” at its ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine if it leaves without a deal.
A senior Whitehall source told the paper: “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.”
According to the documents, petrol import tariffs would “inadvertently” lead to the closure of two oil refineries, while protests across the UK could “require significant amounts of police resources” in a no-deal scenario.
Goods passing through the UK border with the EU would face massive delays.
The Freight Transport Association expected to bear the brunt of a no-deal Brexit were appalled at the revelations in the government dossier and insisted that they have never been warned about fuel shortages.
“This is the first time the industry is learning of any threat to fuel supplies – a particularly worrying situation, as this would affect the movement of goods across the country, not just to and from Europe, and could put jobs at risk throughout the sector which keeps Britain trading,” a spokeswoman said.
But when asked about the dossier, Business Minister Mr Kwarteng told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think there is a lot of scaremongering around and a lot of people are playing into Project Fear and all the rest of it.
“We’ve got to prepare for no-deal. In fact the previous prime minister created DExEU and she said that the mandate of DExEU last year, last summer, was to prepare for no-deal…
“Now we’ve got a new Prime Minister who is very much focused on that and the scale and intensity of those preparations are increasing and we will be fully prepared to leave without a deal on October 31.”
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Mr Gove tweeted: “We don’t normally comment on leaks – but a few facts – Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario – v significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning – and Black Swan is not an HMG doc but a film about a ballet dancer…”
Yet the documents make clear they are describing the government’s base assessment of what Britain will be facing if leaving the EU with no deal, a “base” scenario, not the “worst case scenario” phrase that government sources are now trotting out.
They also warn that Gibraltar could face delays of up to four hours at the border with Spain for “at least a few months”.
The Government of Gibraltar issued a statement insisting that the Operation Yellowhammer documents were “out of date” and based on “planning for worst case scenarios” after they painted a picture of total chaos for Gibraltar.
Though Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, then added: “We do not want a no-deal Brexit. We think it is bad for Gibraltar. We are, nonetheless, now ready for it. The matters raised in the outdated Yellowhammer leak have already been responsibly addressed in detail.”
A Number 10 source said: “This document is from when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to get ready to leave and the funds were not available. 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 already made available and Whitehall has been stood up to actually do the work through the daily ministerial meetings. The entire posture of Government has changed.”
Yet the Financial Times published responses from business leaders who insisted that the government’s secret assessment that UK businesses are unprepared for a no-deal Brexit on October 31 are correct.
“No deal wasn’t the official policy and still technically isn’t,” Edwin Morgan, interim director-general of the Institute of Directors told the paper, explaining that businesses across the economy were “seriously underprepared” for no deal, with smaller businesses especially facing “unknown unknowns”.
The Federation of Small Businesses said that smaller UK companies did not have the resources to prepare for a no-deal exit from the EU on October 31 now.
While the Confederation of British Industry warned: “we can reduce but not remove the damage of no-deal.”
Meanwhile, Tory former cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson claimed the leak was an example of the “establishment” plot to “sow fear in people’s minds”.
In a joint statement, they said: “This Operation Yellowhammer leak is the version of what the contingency executive put together. We remember attending a briefing on privy council terms which they said was not worst case but reasonable worst case. Theresa May had asked for this to be done. It was obviously Project Fear dressed up.
“For example, on the delays at the port we asked if they had discussed their expectation with the port authorities of Calais/Pas du Nord who had already said that there would be no extra delays at Calais and they said, (after a great deal of shuffling of feet) ‘no’.
“We asked why not and they said they had not been asked to do so. There were other areas where it was clear they had not been asked to get balance but instead dress up previous versions of other worst-case scenarios.
“The whole thing was an attempt to frighten us and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. We have never seen officials look so uneasy under questioning.
“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.”
However, the SNP’s Stephen Gethins said the documents lay bare the “sheer havoc Scotland and the UK are hurtling towards”.
“The Tory Prime Minister is in a state of delusion and denial over the impact his extreme Brexit plans will have on essential supplies such as food, medicines and fuel,” he said.
“The worrying reality is that these internal Government papers are only setting out the best-case scenario. It is clear that even in the face of disaster this Tory Government simply plans to walk over the cliff-edge, dragging Scotland with it.”
Jeremy Corbyn is set to accuse Johnson in a speech on Monday of “provoking the crisis our country faces this autumn” in order to turn the UK into a US-dominated tax haven for his backers.
The Labour leader last week vowed to call for a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s leadership and lead a caretaker government of unity to stop a disastrous no-deal eventuality for the country until an election can be held.
Corbyn is reportedly ready to back MPs from across different parties who this weekend insisted that parliament should be recalled from its holiday as the UK is “on the brink of an economic crisis.”
Over 100 MPs wrote an open letter to Johnson warning that “as we career towards a no-deal Brexit which will have an immediate effect on food and medical supplies, damage our economy, jobs, the public finances, public services, universities and long-term economic security” MPs should be recalled as in other times of crisis.
Irish and Northern Irish politicians were keen to reiterate that the economic and social unrest as a hard border inevitably rears its ugly head across the Republic and Northern Ireland described by the Yellowhammer leak were scenarios that they have been warning of for a long time.
“These reports are no surprise to those of us on this side of the Irish Sea who have been voicing our very real concerns on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for a considerable period of time directly with the British Government and the European Commission,” said Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill .
“The island of Ireland faces its biggest and most profound challenges in a generation as the threat of a no-deal Brexit becomes a growing reality in the immediate time ahead.
“The British Government continues to purposely ignore the cross-community majority of citizens in the North of Ireland and elected Assembly members who vehemently disagree and voted to oppose this unwanted Brexit during the referendum in 2016.
“The consequences of a no-deal Brexit will result in a hard border which threatens our hard-won peace and undermines the political and economic progress of the past 21 years enjoyed across the whole island, but particularly in border communities which have been transformed.
“It will have devastating effects for the island of Ireland and our people, businesses, farmers, workers and communities.
“Staying within the single market and customs union, safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement, protecting business, jobs and the all-island economy and citizen’s rights remains paramount for the majority of the people of the North and across Ireland.
“The British Government is dealing with the North of Ireland and the peace process as though it’s a commodity and it is a reckless, dangerous approach to take and one which must be opposed by the EU27, US Congress and those who value the progress of the past 21 years in Ireland.”
Ireland’s main opposition party, Fianna Fail, noted the severe impact no deal would have on Ireland’s economy.
Spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said: “This leaked document merely backs up all of the warnings that Ireland has been outlining about the fallout from a no-deal Brexit.
“Let me be clear, a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the island of Ireland – this document catalogues a sector-by-sector impact on the UK, but there will also be huge implications for these areas in Ireland.
“Given the make-up of the North’s economy, structured around the SME and agri-food sector, and the very tight supply chains linking North-South and East-West, the effects of a no-deal Brexit would be severe and damaging.”
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not understand the situation in Northern Ireland.
“Boris Johnson and his plans for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October are a threat to stability and prosperity on this island,” he said.
“Following our meeting earlier this month, SDLP concerns that Johnson does not fully understand the complexities and fragilities of relationships in Ireland were confirmed.
“The details in this leaked document now confirm that he doesn’t care either.
“We know that a no-deal Brexit will result in food and medicine shortages. Now, by the British Government’s own admission, we know that trade across the border will grind to a halt.
“This British Government, far from sending a clear message to Brussels, is sending a clear message to people and businesses in Northern Ireland – they are willing to sacrifice our economic, political and social wellbeing to please rabid nativists in their own ranks.
“This British Government has no mandate for a no-deal Brexit. If they refuse to reverse position then they should call a general election and put it to the people.”
The DUP commenting on the report said the article was an attempt to undermine critical negotiations and stoke fear in the public.
Party leader Arlene Foster said there was still time for a deal and called for cool heads going forward.
“This leak has come at a time when the new Prime Minister is planning to speak to EU leaders as we approach the UK leaving the EU in October,” she said.
“Attempts to undermine these talks with EU negotiators are not in the national interest. It is important that we use the remaining time to work on getting a deal, with the best possible outcome for the UK.
“There is still time for a deal but requires an attitude change in Dublin and Brussels.”