As It Happens

U.K. changed title of grim no-deal Brexit scenario, says reporter who broke the story

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government insists that an internal report about the possible ramifications of a no-deal Brexit paints a "worst-case scenario" — but that's not what the documents said when journalist Rosamund Urwin obtained a leaked copy last month. 

'Worst Case Scenario' report was called 'Base Scenario' when the London Times obtained a leaked copy

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government was forced to release an internal document assessing the possible ramifications of a no-deal Brexit. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)
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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government insists that an internal report about the possible ramifications of a no-deal Brexit paints a "worst-case scenario" — but that's not what the documents said when journalist Rosamund Urwin obtained a leaked copy last month. 

Lawmakers in Parliament have forced the government to release its so-called Operation Yellowhammer document, which suggests there could be food and medicine shortages, gridlock at ports and protests in the streets, if Britain leaves the European Union on Oct. 31 without an agreement

The document released Wednesday is titled "Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions." But a nearly identical version obtained by Urwin last month and reported in the Sunday Times used the words "Base Case."

Urwin spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the unfolding story. Here is part of their conversation.

How did the predictions in this document compare to what Boris Johnson's government has been saying about what's going to happen after no-deal Brexit?

Michael Gove ... who's a former education minister and now is in charge of no-deal planning in the Boris Johnson administration, he said that there will be bumps in the road. But these were obviously rather bigger than bumps. Some might feel these are sort of mountains in the road.

Boris Johnson has talked about making the best of no-deal. So I sat through far too many of his [campaign] speeches and at all of them he really played down the risks to the U.K. from no-deal. He had this thing he said at all of them, which was: The planes will still fly, there will be clean drinking water, and there will be Mars bars.

But, frankly, if your selling point is you can have three things that you already have and you sort of accept as quite a normal thing in a functioning, developed-world country — Mars bars, clean water and planes flying — that doesn't feel like the greatest selling point for anything.

Michael Gove is in charge of planning for Brexit in the U.K. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Now this document, it's entitled "Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions." You were leaked a similar, if not identical, document weeks ago. How does that compare with the one that they've now pried out of their fingers here officially?

My paper, the Sunday Times in London, had a copy of this document about about three weeks ago, and we ran it. And it is incredibly similar to the document we ran, but with two major changes.

When the document was seen by the Sunday Times, it had the phrase "Base Scenario" at the top. And actually [Nicola Sturgeon], the leader of the Scottish National Party, has come out ... and said: Well, hang on a minute. The version I have also says "Base Scenario." So which is it?

The other thing that's different is there's a part that was redacted when the government published this that relates to fuel shortages. And the reason for that, I believe ... is that there's a fear about people stockpiling fuel in the U.K.

The Sunday Times obtained a leaked copy of the U.K. government's secret no-deal Brexit plan in August and reporter Rosamund Urwin broke the story. (Rosamund Urwin/Twitter )

We have spoken with people ... who were stockpiling food. They're filling their basements with things as though they were preparing for ... a war effort. What is this going to do? Now that this is released, how do you think people are going to respond to the possibility of these shortages?

I actually commissioned a poll of the Sunday Times to say what percentage of the population was stockpiling and we compared it with last December. It's not a huge number.

It was four per cent back in December, and now it's about seven per cent of people. But you might expect that will pick up as we approach Oct. 31, if we really are heading for a no-deal Brexit.

A man passes an electronic billboard displaying a British government Brexit information awareness campaign advertisement in London. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

From your point of view, what's it like to get a document talking about preparing for a potential disaster that is self-inflicted?

Well, I'm a reporter, so I'm not supposed to have any opinions on these such things. But I could sort of let you in on what a few other people think.

And I would suggest that the fact that the government is spending £100 million [$163 million Cdn] on an advertising campaign, that all it does is remind people that Oct. 31 is our exit date, that might seem like a terrible waste of money.

Of course, people did not vote for a no-deal Brexit. I think this is something very important to remember.

The voters were told in the run up to the 2016 referendum that they would get a deal with the EU, it would be the easiest deal in history. There were all sorts of things that were said like that. I mean, it was repeated by the Leave campaign that we would get a deal, that there was no risk of us crashing out. 

What has happened has shown that many of those comments were very foolhardy and misguided. And I think there ar a lot of questions to answer for all those people who loudly proclaimed that we were going to get a deal.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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