Tuesday, 22 October 2019

UK government ‘triggers’ no-deal Brexit contingency plans


Will Waters
Minister responsible claims risk of Britain leaving EU without a formal agreement has increased following failure on Saturday to win the backing of Parliament for new proposed withdrawal treaty, as leaked documents highlight fears of freight chaos

The UK government has reportedly triggered official contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, claiming that its failure on Saturday to win the backing of Parliament for its new proposed withdrawal deal with the EU had increased the risks of a disorderly UK departure from the European Union.

Although some political sources believe the move is designed by the government to try to pressure MPs into backing its Brexit deal by raising the threat of the EU refusing to grant another departure extension, the UK minister responsible for no-deal Brexit planning, Michael Gove, told Sky News on Sunday: “The risk of leaving without a deal has actually increased because we cannot guarantee that the European Council will grant an extension. That is why I will later today be chairing a cabinet committee meeting – extraordinarily, on a Sunday – in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for no deal is accelerated.

“It means that we are triggering Operation Yellowhammer. It means that we are preparing to ensure that if no extension is granted – and we cannot guarantee that an extension will be granted – that we have done everything possible in order to prepare to leave without a deal.”

Gove claimed that the only way MPs can now guarantee no deal does not happen is to vote for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal, although there are no clear indications that the EU would refuse an extension and it has been widely reported that the EU would eventually grant the UK an extension if needed. Some believe Gove’s comments seem primarily aimed at increasing pressure on MPs to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal after the Commons voted on Saturday to withhold immediate support until it could scrutinise the surrounding legislation.

This triggered a law obliging the prime minister to send a letter to the EU seeking a delay beyond 31 October, which Johnson did – albeit accompanied by another letter arguing against this.

One freight and logistics consultant that works closely with UK importers or exporters told Lloyd’s Loading Listthat the current government response to the weekend’s developments in parliament was only adding to the fear that the UK will leave on 31 October without an agreement.

He added that, based on the visits he had made to importers and exporters in the last two weeks, it was “clear that customers are definitely not ready”, noting: “They may have received assurances from forwarders, but from what I have seen, not enough preparation and walk-throughs with customers have taken place, and the bulletins are often confusing and incomplete.”

The decision by the UK government to trigger the no-deal Brexit contingency plans comes as documents leaked this weekend to one UK newspaper once again highlighted concerns about UK freight chaos in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The leaked government documents on its so-called ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ preparations indicate that the UK would face a three-month meltdown at its ports, a ‘hard’ Irish border, and shortages of food and medicine if it leaves the EU without a deal. They suggest there has been a worsening of the risk since documents leaked last month showed some of the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenarios” (RWCS) involved risk to medicine supplies and disruption to food chains, the Guardian reported.

The Sunday Times reported that the document, compiled this month, said up to 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs and could face queues of two and a half days; medical supplies will be “vulnerable to severe extended delays” as three-quarters of the UK’s medicines enter the country via the main Channel crossings; and the availability of fresh food will be reduced and prices will rise.

The government also believes the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks would prove unsustainable.

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