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Councils fear 'food shortages and civil unrest' in event of hard Brexit

4 min read

Councils across the UK fear leaving the European Union without a deal could lead to civil unrest and shortages of food and medicine, it has emerged.

Downing Street confirmed this week that a batch of documents advising the public on how to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be published in August and September.

But some local authorities have already taken matters into their own hands – with a number fearing major disruption to public services and expressing concern that cash currently provided from EU funds will not be replaced if Britain leaves without a deal.

Documents obtained by Sky News under Freedom of Information show that Pembrokeshire County Council is worried that Brexit could harm the “ready availability of vital supplies - foodstuff and medicines".

The authority’s risk register lists just a single potential upside of Brexit: that people might move away from the area, resulting in less pressure on public services.

Bristol Council meanwhile fears "social unrest or disillusionment during/after negotiations as neither Leave nor Remain voters feel their concerns are being met", and East Sussex Council believes a shortage of EU nationals could hit the social care sector.

"There has already been a fall in the number of EU nationals taking jobs in the care sector and the county council has great concerns that the end of freedom of movement will put further pressure on the sector that is already stretched and struggling to deliver the level of care required for our ageing elderly population,” the council says.

Meanwhile, Shetland Islands Council fears that the value of agricultural land could tumble after Brexit, and says fresh tariffs on lamb exports under a no deal scenario could see a sharp spike in the number of sheep farms making losses.

Other councils told Sky News they were unable to plan for Brexit because of “the lack of detail from government about any proposed deal or arrangements”, while the majority said they were worried about the ability of the Treasury to cough up the cash to replace EU structural and regional funds.


The reports – which come after Tory-run councils sounded the alarm over plans to convert a chunk of the M20 into a lorry park – have already been seized on by critics.

Labour's Seema Malhotra - who sits on the cross-party Brexit committee and led a campaign to force the Government to release its own impact assessments - accused ministers of a "shocking dereliction of duty".

"They are failing to prepare the country for what has become a mess of their own making. Now local authorities are starting to prepare for the worst," she told PoliticsHome.

"No deal will hit our public services hard, food prices will go up and medicines could be delayed. People didn’t vote to be poorer but that is what is set to happen. It’s not too late for the government to change course and make a start by saying no to no deal."

Liberal Democrat local government spokesperson Wera Hobhouse meanwhile branded the reports a “damning indictment of how this Tory government are handling negotiations”.

“When local authorities are voicing genuine concerns that Brexit could cause ‘social unrest’, Number Ten need to start taking note,” she said.

“Right across the country we are seeing councils raise fears about the impact of Brexit on their communities. The economic uncertainty surrounding the UK will disrupt the ability of councils to fund vital public services.

The MP added: "This is not what people voted for."

Eloise Todd of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign group said: "It beggars belief that with only 240 days left until Article 50 expires, local councils have been left in the lurch. This is a national crisis and a severe dereliction of duty by central government.”

But a Government spokesperson said ministers were working with councils to "help coordinate" their Brext preparations.

They said: "The Government remains confident that we will secure a positive agreement with the EU, but is working closely and meeting regularly with local government to plan for Brexit under all scenarios.

"A Brexit Ministerial Local Government Delivery Board chaired by the Communities Secretary has been established and will meet regularly to help coordinate this activity.

"The Board held its inaugural meeting last month enabling council leaders to engage with Ministers directly over domestic Brexit preparations."

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