Britain’s level of preparedness for a possible no-deal Brexit has been in the headlines, following the leak of a secret government dossier.
:: What is Operation Yellowhammer?
Operation Yellowhammer is the codename for the overarching work across government to address the immediate impacts of a no-deal Brexit.
It is one part of the government’s overall preparations for such a scenario.
Operation Yellowhammer covers 12 “areas of risk”, such as movement of goods and people across borders, UK food and water supplies, healthcare and transport.
It outlines a possible worst-case scenario, which would include:
- Delays at the border for the flow of goods lasting up to six months
- Food shortages
- Price increases for utilities, fuel and food
- Increased checks for UK citizens travelling to Europe
In essence it is “intended to manage short-term disruption that may arise from no deal and focuses on the areas that will have the highest impact on UK citizens”, a National Audit Office report says.
Its existence was revealed in September 2018, when someone was photographed leaving the Cabinet Office with a sheath of papers.
The document was headed “Operation Yellowhammer: no-deal contingency planning”.
A yellowhammer is an at-risk bird, which has suffered recent population decline, found across large parts of the UK.
Children’s author Enid Blyton characterised its birdsong as “a little bit of bread and no cheese”.
:: So is a no-deal Brexit likely to happen?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed that Britain will leave the European Union on 31 October, with or without a deal.
Mr Johnson has professed his hope that he can strike a new deal with EU leaders and leave the bloc with an agreement, but says the possibility of no deal should not be discounted.
However, opponents of this approach have warned that no deal would hit the British economy and disrupt numerous aspects of day-to-day life.
So the government has been working to make sure Britain is ready – or as ready as it can be – for such a scenario.
Critics of Theresa May – who reiterated during her time in Downing Street that “no deal is better than a bad deal” – say that she was never truly prepared to walk away from the Brexit negotiations with the EU if bad terms were on offer.
Since taking office in July, Mr Johnson has made a big play of being prepared to walk away without a deal.
The PM says his government has stepped up preparations and wants to make clear that it is no idle threat.
In a sign of intent, Mr Johnson has put up an extra £2bn to prepare for no deal, on top of the £4.2bn committed by former chancellor Philip Hammond.
:: Why is Operation Yellowhammer back in the headlines?
At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that it had obtained the Operation Yellowhammer report in full.
The newspaper said the report sets out the “most likely aftershocks” which would follow no deal.
A senior Whitehall source quoted by the Sunday Times said: “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 newspaper, the dossier predicts:
- A three-month “meltdown” at British ports because 85% of lorries using the main Channel crossings “may not be ready”
- A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be likely
- Shortages of food and medicine
- Petrol import tariffs “inadvertently” leading to the closure of two oil refineries
- Protests across the UK which could “require significant amounts of police resources”
- Gibraltar facing up to four-hour delays at the border with Spain for “at least a few months”
:: What has the government’s response been?
Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal planning, said it was an “old document” that only looked at “what the very, very worst situation would be”.
He admitted there “will be some bumps in the road, some element of disruption in the event of no deal”, but added since it was first published preparations have been stepped up.
Mr Gove said: “It’s certainly the case there will be some bumps in the road, some element of disruption in the event of no-deal.
“But the document that has appeared in the Sunday Times was an attempt in the past to work out what the very, very worst situation would be, so we could take steps to mitigate that.
“And we have taken steps, not just to deal with some of the risks, but also to make sure that our economy and our country are better placed than ever to leave the EU on 31 October.”
Sky News understands that the no-deal dossier was dated 1 August and was presented to the first meeting of the Daily Operations Committee last month – which covers all aspects of Brexit preparations.
However, Downing Street is insistent that steps taken since then mean that is not the situation now, with the government expected to publish information about their new assessment of the impact of no deal in the weeks to come.