U.K. government downplays its own stark no-deal Brexit warning

The U.K. government insisted Thursday its assessment there could be food and medicine shortages, gridlock at ports and riots in the streets if there is a no-deal Brexit is a worst-case scenario, not what is likely to happen.

Government forced to publish document late Wednesday after MPs demanded it

The U.K. government's Brexit information awareness campaign includes this billboard ad, shown in London on Wednesday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The U.K. government insisted Thursday that its assessment there could be food and medicine shortages, gridlock at ports and riots in the streets if there is a no-deal Brexit is a worst-case scenario, not what is likely to happen.

The stark picture of disruption represents the government's "reasonable worst case scenario" for leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 without a divorce agreement. The government was forced to publish the document late Wednesday after lawmakers demanded it.

Opposition politicians said the "Operation Yellowhammer" document — the government's code name for its Brexit preparations — proved that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reckless to consider leaving the EU without a deal.

Johnson, meanwhile, denied misleading the Queen about his reasons for suspending Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the EU. The prime minister insisted he suspended Parliament so he can launch a fresh domestic agenda at a new session next month, and said he had "absolutely not" misled the Queen — whose formal approval was needed to suspend Parliament — about his motives.

Dominic Grieve, who was among 21 MPs kicked out of Conservative Party last week for rebelling over Brexit, said it was extraordinary that a British government "is content on inflicting on the British public the level of disruption which is set out in the Yellowhammer papers."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the scenario was a "planning assumption" and would only come true if the government did nothing to mitigate it.

"We are spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions," he told the BBC.

Massive drop in freight predicted

The six-page classified document, dated Aug. 2, said the number of trucks crossing the main freight route between Calais and Dover would drop by between 40 per cent and 60 per cent within a day of a no-deal Brexit, with disruptions possibly lasting up to three months. The supply of certain types of fresh foods and essential medicines would decrease, prices would go up and poor people would be hit hardest, it said.

Vehicles pass beneath a sign warning of possible changes to freight procedures following Brexit on the M56 motorway near Chester, Britain, on Thursday. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

The paper also describes major disruption for travellers between Britain and the EU, uncertainty for U.K. citizens living in Europe, and says attempts to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would probably fail. It also says a no-deal exit could trigger major protests and even riots.

The government refused to comply with another part of Parliament's demand — that it hand over emails and texts among officials and aides discussing the government's decision to suspend Parliament for more than a month ahead of the Brexit deadline. Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit planning, said the request was inappropriate and disproportionate.

Johnson insists the country must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.

Opposition lawmakers and rebel Conservatives have dealt the government's Brexit plans a series of blows. They passed a law that orders the government to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if no agreement has been reached by late October, rejected Johnson's call for a snap general election and ordered the release of the Yellowhammer document.

Then on Tuesday, Johnson suspended Parliament for five weeks until Oct. 14, sparking outrage among legislators and several legal challenges.

N. Ireland court throws out Brexit challenge

A Belfast court on Thursday rejected claims the U.K. government's Brexit strategy will harm Northern Ireland's peace process, the latest in a series of legal challenges to Johnson's plans.

Three linked cases had argued a no-deal exit from the European Union on Oct. 31 would undermine agreements between the British and Irish governments that were struck during the peace process.

At the High Court in Belfast, Judge Bernard McCloskey said the argument belonged in the world of politics, not law.

"Virtually all of the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supra-national," he said.

If the claimants appeal the ruling, the case could join two other legal challenges to Johnson's plan to take the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 — with or without a divorce deal — heard at the Supreme Court next week.

Last week, the High Court in London said the decision was inherently political and "not a matter for the courts." But Scotland's highest civil court ruled Wednesday the shutdown was illegal "because it had the purpose of stymieing Parliament."

Johnson said he was "working very hard" to strike a new deal with the EU after the agreement made by predecessor Theresa May was rejected three times by Parliament.

Johnson's envoy, David Frost, has been holding talks in Brussels this week, but no breakthrough has been made, and the EU says it is still waiting for firm proposals from the U.K.

"The U.K. hasn't proposed any alternatives and anything that's been legally credible and workable," European Parliament President David Sassoli said Thursday.

The bloc's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told reporters "we are still ready to examine objectively any concrete and legally operational proposals from the U.K."


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