LONDON — An increasingly likely “no-deal” Brexit could wreak havoc on Britain’s economy, infrastructure and social fabric, the government says in classified documents leaked to a British newspaper.
The costs of food and social care would rise, while medicines could be delayed, the Sunday Times reported. Border delays would interrupt fuel supplies. Ports would suffer severe disruptions and recover only partially after three months, leaving traffic at 50 to 70 percent of the current flow.
Those are some of the effects predicted by “Operation Yellowhammer,” which the newspaper said was compiled this month by Britain’s Cabinet Office and available to those with “need to know” security clearances.
Government ministers pushed back against the reports on Sunday, saying the documents were outdated and the government had ramped up its no-deal planning in recent weeks.
Brexit critics have warned that crashing out of the European Union without an agreement with the rest of the bloc will damage the British economy, devalue its currency and create instability. British leaders have sought unsuccessfully since the 2016 Brexit vote to pass a “divorce” plan.
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit supporter, has promised to get his country out of the E.U., deal or no deal, during his first 100 days in office. He’s set to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron this week to press his case for a new deal. At the moment, negotiations are at a standstill.
Opposition lawmakers have been discussing ways of blocking a no-deal Brexit, including bringing down the government by calling a no-confidence vote in early September.
It’s unclear whether Johnson would win such a vote.
The Yellowhammer documents provide a sobering view of what a no-deal Brexit could mean for Britain.
The Sunday Times said the government predicts a need to restore a “hard border” of limited, controlled crossing points in Ireland, which could cause protests.
Johnson has maintained that a “can-do spirit” can help avert such a change. But the government anticipates that measures to avoid a hard border would likely “prove unsustainable.”
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, tweeted that the country was “respectful” of Britain’s decision to leave the E.U., but reiterated that a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which is in the E.U., and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, “must be avoided.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said there would be “no chance” of Congress approving a U.S.-U.K. trade deal after Brexit if it undermined the Good Friday agreement, the 20-year-old deal between Britain and Ireland that helped advance peace in Northern Ireland.
The government warns that some businesses would halt trade to avoid tariffs, while others who keep trading would pass higher costs on to customers. Agriculture “will be the hardest hit, given its reliance on highly integrated cross-border supply chains” and high trade barriers. And the black market could grow, it says, especially in border communities.
Protests around the country could monopolize police resources.
Michael Gove, a senior lawmaker in the ruling Conservative Party who is effectively in charge of planning for a no-deal Brexit, told the BBC that the documents were “old” and detailed “worst-case” scenarios.
“Since it was published and circulated, the government has taken significant additional steps to ensure we are prepared to leave on October 31, deal or no deal,” Gove said.
But he conceded that if there were a no-deal Brexit, there could be some “bumps in the road.”
The Sunday Times quoted a senior government individual saying the findings present not a worst-case scenario but a “most realistic assessment of what the public face with no deal.”
Other possible ramifications detailed in the memo:
- Increased costs for social-care providers caused by inflation could lead some providers to fail.
- Temporary cuts in tariffs would render the oil industry uncompetitive, closing two refineries, causing the loss of 2,000 jobs, spurring strikes and further disrupting fuel supplies.
- Delays at European airports, the Eurotunnel and other transportation hubs.
- Months of slowdowns of over four hours at the Spanish border with Britain’s overseas territory of Gibraltar, which could harm the area’s economy.
- Shortages of certain fresh foods leading to less choice, higher prices and potential panic buying.
- A risk of disruption to supplies of chemicals used to treat water.
- A risk of dust-ups between British and European fishing boats in British waters.
The Government of Gibraltar said Sunday that mentions of the territory in the leaked documents are “out of date” and it has now “commissioned all necessary works” to accommodate extra traffic if needed. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said that while the territory’s government opposes a no-deal Brexit, it is ready for what it called the worst-case scenarios put forward in the leaked report.
As the clock ticks down to Oct. 31, the day Britain is scheduled to leave the E.U., the government insists that it wants a deal, but is preparing for every eventuality.
But the leaked documents show Britain is mostly unprepared amid “E.U. exit fatigue” after the country missed a planned departure date in March, the Sunday Times reported.