UK’s Johnson under fire over no-deal Brexit assessment

LONDON (AFP) – The British government faced a backlash yesterday after it was forced to publish documents warning that a no-deal Brexit could lead to civil unrest and shortages of food and medicines.

The Operation Yellowhammer papers, which the government released late on Wednesday, revealed that preparedness for leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement remained “at a low level”.

The documents – disclosed after Members of Parliament (MPs) voted on Monday for their release – warned of “a rise in public disorder and community tensions” in such a scenario, as well as logjams at Channel ports threatening to impact supplies.

“It is extraordinary that these are things that could flow from the government’s own policy,” opposition Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn said.

“Normally when you’re protecting against something like this it’s a natural disaster, it’s the action of others, (things) you don’t control.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said they were updating the scenarios, which were last compiled at the start of August, and that it envisaged “the worst case”.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in an activity with school children as he visits the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the river Thames to mark London International Shipping Week, in London. PHOTO: AFP

“We’re spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC, noting there were daily meetings to prepare for no deal.

“We’ve planned for it and government does that well,” he insisted.

Paul Carter, leader of the local authority in the southeast county of Kent, where there are fears of gridlock following a no-deal Brexit, said Johnson’s administration had made “real progress” recently.

“I’m pretty confident that we can avoid disruption in Kent,” he told the BBC.

But the release has fuelled fears among MPs that a disorderly divorce would be calamitous.

“It is unprecedented,” said MP Dominic Grieve, who was expelled from the ruling Conservatives last week for voting against the government over the issue.

“Even if we are ready for a no-deal Brexit, this is highly disruptive and costly.”

Johnson took office in July promising to finally deliver on the referendum decision by leaving the EU on October 31 no matter what, but finds himself increasingly boxed in.

He has no majority in the Commons and suspended Parliament on Monday until October 14 in an apparent bid to thwart opposition to a possible no-deal departure.

The controversial move provoked uproar across the political spectrum and several legal challenges.

A Scottish appeals court ruled on Wednesday the suspension was “unlawful” but the government immediately appealed the decision, with the case set to be heard in the Supreme Court next Tuesday.

Parliament will for now stay shut, despite calls from opposition lawmakers for its immediate recall – intensified by the release of the Yellowhammer documents.

“It is also now more important than ever that Parliament is recalled and has the opportunity to scrutinise these documents and take all steps necessary to stop no deal,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.

However, a government source told AFP on Wednesday that “nothing is changing” until the case was concluded.