No Deal is still nothing to fear

Worst-case scenarios won’t arise if we prepare properly.

Fraser Myers
Topics Brexit Politics UK

An official document purporting to show the chaos that would be caused by a No Deal Brexit has been leaked to The Sunday Times. It relates to Operation Yellowhammer – the code name for the government’s No Deal contingency planning. It predicts food shortages, drug shortages and a breakdown in law and order if Britain leaves the EU without a deal and, overnight, becomes a so-called third country that has to trade with the EU on WTO terms. Remainers have leapt on Operation Yellowhammer as evidence of the impending post-Brexit apocalypse. Government ministers have dismissed the leak as more ‘Project Fear’.

A senior Whitehall source told The Sunday Times that Yellowhammer ‘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.’

But parts of the leaked document do talk about worst cases. For instance, fears about disruption to medical supplies, which the document claims will last for six months, are based on assumptions about the ‘pre-mitigation reasonable worst-case flow rate’ of goods crossing the Channel. ‘Unmitigated, this will have an impact on the supply of medicines’, the document continues. In other words, it is describing the worst-case scenario, assuming we will do literally nothing to mitigate its impacts.

In fact, this ‘reasonable worst-case’ assumption about major disruption at ports forms the basis of many of the apocalyptic scenarios. But how ‘reasonable’ is it to assume there will be days worth of delays at Britain’s ports?

Ports in Kent are most at risk from disruption. ‘HGVs [heavy-goods vehicles] could face a maximum delay of one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half days before being able to cross the border.’ The biggest problem the document identifies is ‘trader readiness’. It estimates that 50 to 85 per cent of HGVs ‘might not be ready for French customs’, and that there is limited capacity at French ports to hold ‘unready’ vehicles. This points to a lack of planning rather than being an inevitable consequence of No Deal. The obvious solution is to get them ready. For other ports, the document says, ‘analysis to date has suggested a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside Kent that have high volumes of EU traffic’.

What’s more, according to a joint statement by former ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, who were briefed on Yellowhammer by Theresa May’s government, civil servants never discussed their worst-case expectations with the French, meaning that many of the worst fears of port disruption could be exaggerated.

‘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 port authorities in France have repeatedly asserted that there will be no major delays and disruptions on their side in the event of No Deal. Earlier this month, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of Port Boulogne-Calais, memorably described the concern about No Deal delays as ‘le bullshit’. ‘Britain will be a third country, that’s all, and there is no reason why this should lead to any problems. If both sides do their homework traffic will be completely fluid’, he told the Telegraph.

That both sides ‘do their homework’ is key to avoiding large-scale disruption. Indeed, it is the purpose of contingency planning like Operation Yellowhammer. We know that despite repeated proclamations to the contrary, Theresa May’s government was never seriously preparing Britain for No Deal. Chancellor Phillip Hammond recently told BBC Panorama that he discouraged businesses from planning for No Deal. His Treasury reportedly exerted a vice-like grip on funds for No Deal contingencies (although he did help the government prepare for a second referendum).

Because of this, the Yellowhammer document is likely to be out of date. Its exact age is disputed. The Sunday Times says it was compiled this month. But government ministers and even the Gibraltar government – which is no fan of Brexit and is opposed to No Deal – say it is out of date. Even if the document was drawn up this month, a change in the government’s attitude to No Deal from hostile to sanguine will surely take time to filter through to the civil service’s preparations.

As planning for No Deal steps up, the risks will decrease. The fact that risks of disruption have been downgraded twice in the past year shows that this is the case. Last year, the government worked out a ‘reasonable worst-case’ scenario, which it revealed to industry but kept secret from the public. This assessment was based on the assumption that French authorities would check every individual vehicle (an assumption made without any talks with France – civil servants used satellite imagery to estimate the overspill capacity of French ports instead of just asking them). The 2018 ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ predicted that 75 to 87 per cent of ‘flow’ over the Channel would be disrupted. In April 2019, this assessment was improved to 50 to 70 per cent. August 2019’s estimate was downgraded to 40 to 60 per cent of traffic. This will no doubt be improved on again if the government and suppliers step up No Deal planning.

Similarly, in November 2018, another document from Operation Yellowhammer was leaked to the Mail on Sunday. It warned that Britain would run out of clean drinking water. Apparently, this was enough to convince Brexiteer Michael Gove to back Theresa May’s Soft Brexit deal. But the more recent Yellowhammer dossier obtained by The Sunday Times is more reassuring: ‘Public water services are likely to remain unaffected, thanks to action now being taken by water companies.’ Risks in that sector are ‘considered low’ because companies are ‘well prepared’. In other words, a potential problem was identified and dealt with.

No Deal Brexit is only risky if we do nothing to plan for it. Far more dangerous is the use of these unlikely worst-case scenarios to override our democratic wish to leave the EU.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Marvin Jones

28th August 2019 at 2:22 pm

Something has been eating away at me since last w/end. Farage was interviewing an ex border control officer, highly ranked and presently with a group of likewise people, are trying really hard to find a way out. The debate got to a point that when an EU country and a third member have borders that meet, there MUST be border checks done to establish who is physically crossing the border. They were adamant that NO checks would need to be done, so if NO ONE is checked, then that is free movement of any and everyone that uses these borders. They claim, that no one will be asked to show their passports, so how would one know who is entering or leaving?

Ven Oods

20th August 2019 at 4:00 pm

It was always set up to be a ‘who blinks first’ play. The idea that Brexit would be sorted before the last minute was always fanciful.
What it seems to come down to is – will the EU offer another extension, to give Remainers more time to complete their machinations, or will it kiss goodbye to the severance money it’s demanding by allowing no-deal by default.

Jim Lawrie

20th August 2019 at 11:49 am

The main thing is that we will not run out of the stuff we need to make a good curry because that is not controlled by The EU.

Vin da loooooo, Vin da looooo

Jim Lawrie

20th August 2019 at 11:19 am

If the situation is as bad as The EU are determined to make it then they are prepared to send the whole continent into a depression out of sheer spite and truculence.

The EU and our Government are not the only decision makers. Growers in this country have already figured out how to take advantage of shortages. Supermarket chains have made their own plans. We do not import oil from The EU. The trade in medicines cuts both ways. All over the world import export agents are ready to fill the gaps and take our produce. That is what The EU fear – that entrepreneurs, private business and the market here and abroad will make a mockery of all their threats.

What I do smirk and shake my head at is the EU in their minds attacking Brexit by alternately talking to us as if we were all imbeciles, and then issuing threats based on those pronouncements. It is of a one with their view that we could not figure out how to vote rationally. They do not accept that people have seen that the whole multi-cult, globalisation rubbish has failed. They who call us stupid cannot see themselves as we can.
Deadly threats against medical supplies can only end one way.

Did we not have clean water before the EU? Does the EU hold a world wide monopoly on water treatment technology?

BTW I have worked all over Europe in IT, and the best professionals I came across were in Ukraine and Russia. Mainly self taught.

John Millson

20th August 2019 at 8:14 am

In other words, somewhere in the middle. Bad, but not that bad…
Ireland? Just a bit more tricky, ‘eh? Quite rightly the government should be on that, now. But noboby thought about it before…?
Yep, much of it must be due to calibre of civil servants and MPs. Add in the recalcitrance and destructive selfishness of some of the victors and losers and there you go…What a Giant Cock-Up. Brexit Britain.

Jim Lawrie

20th August 2019 at 10:49 am

Remainers thought Ireland was their trump card. Ireland played along. Now the game is up. Most Remainers do not even realise that it is the EU and Ireland who will impose a hard border. And pay the bill. It is Southern Ireland that will be a conduit for drugs, illegals and smuggling. The gang wars in Dublin will quickly be out of control. Forget a renewal of The Troubles. The dissidents only want a share of the action.

I am terrified of being all alone to fend for ourselves without the supervisory wisdom and regulation of Brussels. Not to worry though, and no need for elections when we have clever people like you to step in, take charge and tell us all what to do.

John Millson

20th August 2019 at 12:49 pm

I am not clever enough to tell you what do to, mister.
Remember the bombs on the mainland? Terrorist c*nts/gangsters look for any ‘excuse’.

John Millson

20th August 2019 at 12:54 pm

There was a smarter way to leave the EU.
Any drummed-up post-Brexit ‘patriotism’ will always ring hollow.

Jim Lawrie

20th August 2019 at 2:32 pm

John Millson of course I remember it. I missed the one at London bridge only because of a dental appointment, although many of my fellow Scots would sooner square up to the IRA than face the man with the drill.
The wannabee terrorists have no support base now. Just a small group of thugs who missed out on the spoils of war from the peace process. The assumption that all Catholics/Nationalist will vote for a United Ireland is just that.
The Secretary of State for N Ireland is obliged to sound out opinion on the matter. I assume there is no prospect of a majority in favour, because if there were I think the UK would be shot of them in a minute.
Of interest is that other than Claire Fox, the Spіked cadre have not stated, or re-iterated, their position on militant, violent Republicanism or Loyalism.

Forgotten is that when the UK decided to join the EU, Ireland had no choice but to follow. Their referendum on the subject was thwarted with a gun to the head. The South has n stomach for a fight. They do think they have the trigger hand over us. They don’t. They need The EU, who don’t have the ammunition, to load it.

James Knight

19th August 2019 at 6:32 pm

How many of those people trying to stop “no deal” or highlight risks of no deal are demanding the UK/EU agree to a free trade deal “in principle” on the point of departure? That would reduce the risk at the stroke of a pen and ease any issue with the NI border. What is common sense to almost anyone with a single live brain cell has evaded most of parliament. And that is emboldening the EU to sit back and wait and see if MPs can stop Brexit.

It is about stopping Brexit not stopping “no deal”.

Billy Smith

19th August 2019 at 6:29 pm

Not only was the document ‘seized on’ by Remainers but also it was written by them. Its doom-mongering was then further exaggerated by the Sunday Times writers, who should be ashamed of themselves. We can expect more of this drivel as Hammon, Grieve, Campbell and their chums continue to do Brussels’ work. The more they jibber, the more determined I become to see the UK out of the collapsing EU fantasy project and free to make our own way in the world.

Jim Lawrie

20th August 2019 at 11:25 am

They would have us believe ourselves incapable of making out own way. The only thing stopping us is we are not free to do so. And they bloody well know it.

It cheers me up to read posts like yours that reflect the defiance, determination and doggedness of our country.

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