The UK will be hit with 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, according to government documents on Operation Yellowhammer.
The documents predict severe extended delays to medicine supplies and shortages of some fresh foods combined with price rises as a likely scenario if the UK leaves without a withdrawal agreement, which is due to happen on 31 October.
They suggest there has been a worsening of the risk since documents leaked to the Guardian showed some of the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenarios” (RWCS) involved risk to medicine supplies and disruption to food chains.
The dossier, codenamed Operation Yellowhammer and compiled this month, found up to 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs and could face queues of 2.5 days, the Sunday Times reported.
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, which could hit “vulnerable groups”.
The government also believes the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable.
A senior Whitehall source told the paper: “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.”
No 10 did not comment on the leaked document but, appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Kwasi Kwarteng, a minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that there was “a lot of scaremongering around and a lot of people are playing into Project Fear and all the rest of it”.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, insists that he still wants to leave the UK with a deal but he has demanded a fresh agreement from the EU without the backstop – a mechanism to prevent a hard border in Ireland that could keep Britain in a customs union.
He is due to visit Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, ahead of a G7 summit this week to underline his demands for concessions. However, the EU is adamant that the backstop must stay.
With the likelihood of no deal increasing, more than 100 MPs from across the political parties called on Johnson to recall parliament to allow for debate on Brexit.
Moves are underway by Tory rebels along with Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and other MPs to legislate against a no-deal Brexit. If that fails, they are working on replacing Johnson with a caretaker government after bringing a vote of no confidence.
Johnson’s strategy is to blame parliamentarians for blocking Brexit, ahead of a possible general election that he would fight on a “people versus parliament” platform.
In a letter leaked to the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said it was “plain as a pikestaff” that EU leaders would “simply not compromise” and agree a favourable deal if Tory MPs openly discussed stopping a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.
The letter will be seen as an attack on Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, and Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, who are among those leading Tory rebels in finding ways to stop the government leaving the EU without an agreement.
In a letter to 20 Tories who wrote to him demanding a deal, Johnson wrote back that “any such parliamentary campaign, any tricks of procedure or alliance of factions designed to derail Brexit, gravely damages the chances of our securing a deal”.
The government is applying its energies to showing the EU that it is serious about leaving on 31 October with or without a deal. Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, moved this weekend to sign a commencement order, which will trigger the end of the supremacy of EU law in the UK on 31 October.