Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May this week has managed to get a short extension for leaving the EU until 12th April. Despite still hammering the idea she wants to exit with a deal (her deal), if she cannot win the support of MPs between now and 12th April, then the possibility of a no-deal Brexit strongly remains. Of course, this has been going on for what seems like an eternity – now each week more reports of panic preparations for the no-deal exit are released, here’s what we know so far.
Named after a bird, Operation Yellowhammer is the code name for the government’s no-deal Brexit contingency plan. It was created in June 2018 and aims to cover 12 key areas that would affect society such as transport, healthcare, energy, food and water.
The premise of the operation is to minimise and plan around worst-case scenario assumptions. Some issues are foreseeable in the fog of Brexit like delays at all borders, increased immigration checks at EU border posts, less choice and supply of energy utilities, food and fuel. With a significant increase in price for all of it.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has summoned 3,500 troops and reserves, to be deployed if necessary, to “support government planning”. This week it was revealed the government has also set up an operations room in a nuclear bunker usually reserved for strategic discussions on the 2012 Olympics at its main Whitehall building to coordinate efforts in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The 3,500 military reservists were put on standby late last year to help with possible disruption in a no-deal Brexit, including at ports and other transport hubs, and wider threats to “the welfare, health and security” of UK citizens.
It is strongly rumoured by those on the inside that detail preparations are not sophisticated enough or within sufficient time. The Treasury to the government has budgeted £1.5bn to be allocated across all departments.
A test has already been conducted to plan for the transport chaos that will ensue if encounter a no-deal Brexit. Operation Brock is the name of the plan to hold up to 2,000 lorries heading for mainland Europe in a queue while keeping other traffic flowing around it. Effectively, the aim is to stop the British motorways turning in to a car park. The last resort has been proposed to turn the M26 into a temporary lorry park. The M26 is a 10-mile motorway connecting the M25 at Sevenoaks and the M20, near West Malling.
The government has previously warned, “there could be some freight traffic disruption in Kent in the event of a no-deal Brexit”. If no-deal occurs, lorries travelling between the UK and the EU will need to complete custom declarations. Under single market rules, checks and inspections on certain goods from the UK, such as food and plant products may be required.
The Port of Dover in Kent handles approximately 10,500 lorries a day and more checks are feared to cause more delays and therefore long tailbacks. It is thought that for every two minutes of extra processing time per lorry could equal up to 17 miles of tailbacks. A popular back up is to filter up to 6000 lorries to a disused Manston airfield, near Ramsgate.
Under this scenario, the M26 would be closed to normal road users and lorries would park on the carriageway. Kent County Council believes this option could accommodate an additional 2,000 lorries.
A side effect of all this transport chaos is that air pollution in the local areas will significantly increase and local councils have advised schools to keep all teachers and pupils indoors to minimise any chances of ill health effects.
The Irish border has been the biggest unknown and thorn in the government’s side. On 13th March its contingency plan was published to avoid a hard border in Ireland in the event on a no-deal Brexit. This physical infrastructure has more power to it than the average border check as it symbolises the divide between northern and southern Ireland from many years before
Simply put the plans state the UK would not implement new checks or controls and would require no customs declarations for any goods moving from across from Ireland (southern) to Northern Ireland in the event of no deal. Certain plant and animal products will need to be checked but not at the border – it’s not been clarified where and when this would occur, It has to be made clear that this is aa temporary measure whilst the negotiations are ongoing once a basic exit has been agreed. The UK government says its contingency plan recognises “the unique social, political and economic circumstances of Northern Ireland”.
For goods travelling from Northern Ireland in to the Republic of Ireland, a clear understanding has not been finalised. The current EU rules state checks are required at the point certain goods enter the EU single market i.e. at the Irish land border. However, the Irish government says there are “no plans for Border Inspection Posts on the border with Northern Ireland.”
The government has published a “tariff schedule.” This is a comprehensive list of the taxes placed on different types of products when they are imported from other countries. They have pledged to removed 83% of tariffs on food-based goods if a no-deal Brexit was to occur
Technically, it could mean particular goods from outside the EU that currently attract a tariff could be cheaper or even have 0% tariff. However, on the flip side, goods from the EU that are currently imported with 0% tariffs, like soft commodities e.g. beef and dairy, would incorporate a tariff and ultimately become more expensive.
Independent groups have also been asked for their predictions within their sectors. The British Retail Consortium has warned that supermarket shelves could be left bare if there is disruption at the border under a no-deal outcome.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has finally admitted that thousands of medicines have been analysed to work out what might be affected by supply disruption from the EU. Numerous suppliers and large pharmaceuticals are stockpiling an additional six weeks’ worth of drugs, products and items.
Other sectors within healthcare are taking an identical approach. The same is being taken by blood and transplant companies and products with agreed additional warehouse space for refrigeration made available.
Tim Durrant, a researcher at the Institute for Government, said some Whitehall departments were well prepared for no deal but other areas of planning were weaker. “Many people across Whitehall will not have thought we would get to the stage where a no-deal Brexit could still be a possibility so late in the day,” he said.
Mr Durrant said the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) had done a lot to ensure a high level of interdepartmental coordination to cope with no deal for Healthcare products.
“The proper management of the UK border, for example, requires inputs from HMRC, the Home Office, the Border Force and others,” he said. “The level of coordination needed is very high.” But he warned there were significant weaknesses for business and commercial no-deal preparation. “A lot of companies still don’t know that they need to be proactive in preparing for that possibility,” he said. Trading companies need to acquire an economic operator registration and identification (EORI) number from HMRC if they are to fast track goods through customs in a no-deal scenario. Private planes are on call to be chartered for medicines and with short shelve lives.
A team of Defra (Department for the environment, food and rural affairs) officials is providing daily internal reports of any shortages in food and medical supplies. According to Government insiders, the first reports this week have shown that only about 4% of consumers are stockpiling food, up from 3% one month ago. A Defra EU Exit Emergency Planning and Response Team is surveying the situation on a daily basis, issuing relevant MPs with regular RAG situation reports (Red Amber Green) of supply shortages.