'Neither honest nor open': Govt under fire over no-deal Brexit

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A former head of the civil service has accused the government of being “neither honest nor open” about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Lord Kerslake, who was in post from 2012 to 2014 and is now a Labour adviser, said “longer, more detailed” documents about the effects of such a scenario have yet to be published by the government.

Calling for their release, he told Sky News: “I think the public have the right to know exactly what the full story is. Not, after all, what is a five-page summary of a much more detailed analysis.”

Lord Kerslake was referring to the Operation Yellowhammer document published on Wednesday.

Image: Lord Kerslake is an opponent of a no-deal Brexit who has in the past called for a second referendum

The document was disclosed after opposition MPs defeated the government in a Commons vote on Monday to order its publication.

The summary warns of the possibility of a rise in public disorder, delays lasting three months at Channel crossings, “significant” electricity price rises and impacts on medicine and food supplies.

MPs moved to force the release of the document after excerpts were leaked to The Sunday Times last month.

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Lord Kerslake, an opponent of a no-deal Brexit who has called for a second referendum in the past, said apparent discrepancies between these two versions of the document showed the government was being “neither honest nor open”.

He said: “The leaked document was called the base scenario, which means it could be better or it could be worse.

“This document, the same document that’s been published, is called the reasonable worst-case scenario, i.e. it suggests it is the worst possible scenario.

“And that I’m afraid is not honest in the way in which it’s been done.”

DOVER, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Lorries arrive and depart from Dover Ferry Terminal on April 4, 2019 in Dover, England. It has been reported the Theresa May has written to the EU asking for an extension to leaving the EU until June 30, 2019. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Image: There could be delays lasting three months at Channel crossings, the document warns

Following the publication of the paper, Michael Gove – the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the government minister in charge of no-deal planning – said: “The document is neither an impact assessment, nor a prediction of what is most likely to happen.

“It describes what could occur in a reasonable worst-case scenario, thus providing a deliberately stretching context for government planning to ensure that we are prepared for exit.”

This was echoed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said on Thursday that the report was a “worst-case scenario” and that the government has been “massively accelerating” preparations since he took office.

But Lord Kerslake took issue with this, saying: “Well I’m afraid that is also not honest.

“This document isn’t that old, it was published in fact, or written, on 2 August, barely a few weeks ago.

“It’s hard to believe that the circumstances, even with the acceleration of work, have moved on that much.”

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The “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions” of Operation Yellowhammer detail:

  • The worst disruption at Channel crossings might last for up to three months before improving
  • Lorries could face maximum delays of two-and-a-half days before being able to cross the UK border
  • Possible immigration delays for UK holidaymakers at the Channel Tunnel, ferry crossings and airports
  • A likelihood of “significant” electricity price rises in Northern Ireland
  • Medicine supplies will be “particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”
  • A potential reduction in the UK’s ability to prevent animal disease outbreaks due to reduced supplies of veterinary medicines
  • Supplies of some fresh food will decrease, while supermarket prices may also rise
  • Panic buying could increase food supply problems
  • The possibility of urgent action to ensure access to clean water if there is a failure in the supply of chemicals – although the likelihood of this is considered “low”
  • Disruption in law enforcement data sharing between the UK and EU
  • Concerns that Gibraltar has not prepared well enough for a no-deal Brexit
  • “Significant amounts” of police time being taken up by protests and a possible rise in public disorder
  • The risk of disruption to fuel supplies in the South East of England
  • Possible clashes between UK and EU fishing vessels
  • UK efforts to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are “likely to prove unsustainable”.

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