Brexit: leaked papers predict food shortages and port delays

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”.

Liberal Democrats: Their first choice would be legislation to extend article 50 then call a second referendum. If this did not work the party would support the no-confidence motion, but rather than installing Corbyn, the Lib Dems would seek a cross-party government led by a backbench grandee, such as Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman. It is not clear if the party would try to block a temporary Corbyn government.

SNP: The Scottish National party supports a no-confidence motion. They have said they will talk to Corbyn about his plan, despite their differences over Brexit. The party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has criticised Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s stance.

Plaid Cymru: Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster leader for the party, has indicated she could back the Corbyn plan, but would prefer an immediate second referendum rather than general election.

Independent Group for Change/Independents: The group formerly known as the TIGers, now split and reduced in number after two joined the Liberal Democrats, seem wary of the Corbyn plan, with some MPs saying they could not support him.

Greens: Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s sole MP has taken a similar view to Saville Roberts, and has also appealed to Swinson to reconsider backing a temporary Corbyn-led government.

Rebel Tories: Conservative party MP Guto Bebb has said that even a Corbyn government would be preferable to no deal. But it seems hard to see many other Tories following him.

Former Labour independents: Ian Austin, a long-time Corbyn foe, has already ruled out supporting his plan for a temporary government, and it is hard to see MPs such as Frank Field, John Woodcock, and others, doing so either.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

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.

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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.

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The date on which the Commons is likely to return from summer recess. It is the first date that MPs could hold a vote of no confidence in the new prime minister. However, rebel MPs would need to be confident they could form an alternative government, as many wish to avoid triggering an election.

Mps would be due to go on conference recess – but could continue to sit if a no-confidence vote had been lost.

Assuming the government has lost a confidence vote, this would be the deadline for Labour or any unity government to win a confidence vote. If not achieved, Boris Johnson would call an election. Parliament could then be prorogued.

The Labour and Conservative party conferences are due to be held on consecutive weeks.

Parliament would be dissolved if an election were to be held on 1 November. 

EU leaders meet for the final European council summit before the UK’s extension is due to expire. Rebel Tories and remainers may choose to call a no-confidence vote if an extension is not offered as a way of preventing no deal.

The six-month article 50 extension will expire.

The UK could hold a general election.

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.

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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.



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