Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

No-deal Brexit would seriously harm UK, leaked paper says

  • Disruptions to trade could cause medical and food shortages (Photo: Jasperdo)

The British government has tried to play down leaked warnings on the dangers to British people of a no-deal Brexit.

They were "exaggerated", one minister said. They were also "scaremongering" by anti-Brexit rebels, another minister claimed.

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  • Boris Johnson(c) to meet EU leaders for first time this week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The reactions came after the Sunday Times newspaper published a leaked civil service paper on Sunday (18 August) detailing what might happen if prime minister Boris Johnson made good on his threat to leave on 31 October without a deal if need be.

The leak came as he prepared to travel to Berlin and Paris on Wednesday and Thursday for his first Brexit talks with EU leaders.

The internal paper warned of disruption to medical supplies, such as insulin and flu vaccine, due to delays linked to new customs checks for lorries travelling across the Channel.

There would be less choice of fresh food in the shops and higher prices, affecting "vulnerable groups" in British society, it said.

British petrol exporters to Europe would face huge losses due to new tariffs and two refineries would lose, costing 2,000 jobs, it noted.

There would also be a hard border with Ireland, threatening the peace deal there, as well as a risk of "public disorder" in the UK due to pro- and anti-Brexit street protests, the paper also said.

"It's certainly the case that there will be bumps in the road, some element of disruption in the event of no-deal," Michael Gove, the minister in charge of planning for a no-deal Brexit, told press also on Sunday.

But he added that "the document that has appeared in the Sunday Times was an attempt, in the past, to work out what the very, very worst situation would be so that we could take steps to mitigate that. And we have taken steps".

"I think there's a lot of scaremongering around and a lot of people are playing into project fear and all the rest of it," Kwasi Kwarteng, a junior minister in charge of energy, told the Sky News broadcaster.

The government has allocated £2bn (€2.2bn) to mitigate no-deal disruptions and "the entire posture of government has changed" since the paper was drafted earlier this month, a Downing Street source also told British media.

"It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders," the source added.

Two of Johnsons' other ministers also pressed ahead with plans to leave on 31 October no matter what.

Steve Barclay, the minister in charge of Brexit, signed a law repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, which automatically translates EU laws into UK law, in October.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," he said.

Piri Pattel, the home office minister, has also pressed ahead with plans to end free movement to the UK for EU citizens on 31 October, a home office source told The Independent newspaper.

"The home secretary has been clear in her intention to take back control of our borders and end free movement after 31 October," the source said.

But others rounded on the Sunday Times revelations as a sign of Johnson's reckless attitude despite Gove and Kwateng's remarks, however.

"These risks are completely insane for this country to be taking and we have to explore every avenue to avoid them," Lord Kerslake, a former head of the British civil service, told the BBC.

A no-deal Brexit would "have wartime implications, in peacetime, all of them self-inflicted", Tom Brake, an MP from the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said.

The Freight Transport Association, a British lobby group, also expressed concern.

"This is the first time the industry is learning of any threat to fuel supplies - a particularly worrying situation, as this would affect the movement of goods across the country, not just to and from Europe, and could put jobs at risk throughout the sector which keeps Britain trading," its spokeswoman told press.

Patel's new immigration crackdown was also "outrageous", Ed Davey, another Liberal Democrats MP, added.

"What would this mean for EU citizens who have made their home in the UK who have travelled abroad when they try to return?," he said.

"Are the government seriously suggesting an NHS nurse who is an EU national may not be allowed to return to the country [after 31 October] if they happen to have been on holiday? It is absurd," he added.

Mark Elliott, a professor of law at Cambridge University, also said that Barclay's repeal act was an empty gesture because the 1972 EU law would only become defunct on exit day and the exit date could still be delayed despite his new bill.

"If parliament forces the government to seek, and the EU grants, an Article 50 extension, the definition of 'exit day' can be altered & ECA repeal deferred accordingly," Elliott said on Twitter.

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