No deal Brexit could lead to shortages of food and medicine, according to government document

Posted On: 
11th September 2019

A no-deal Brexit could lead to a shortage of fresh food and medicine in the UK, according to government documents.

MPs forced the publication of the Operation Yellowhammer document.
Credit: 
PA Images

Hundreds of thousands of people could also be denied clean water if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place.

Prices in the shops could also increase, the documents say, with the most vulnerable groups the hardest hit.

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The stark warnings are contained in papers released by ministers following a parliamentary vote on Monday.

MPs ruled that details of the Government's planning for a no-deal scenario - called Operation Yellowhammer - should be made public.

However, ministers have rejected a separate request from MPs that communications between Number 10 officials of the reasons behind the prorogation of Parliament should also be made available.

According to the six-page Operation Yellowhammer document, under a "reasonable worst case scenario", up to 85% of UK lorries will be held up by French customs on the first day of a no-deal Brexit because they do not have the necessary paperwork.

UK citizens travelling to the EU may also be subject to increased immigration checks, but it is the warnings on medicines and food which are likely to cause the most alarm.

The document says there could be "significant disruption lasting up to six months" of medicines coming into the UK.

"Whilst some products can be stockpiled, others cannot due to short shelf lives - it will also not be practical to stockpile products to coover expected delays of up to six months," the document says.

It adds: "Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease. Critical dependencies for the food supply chain (such as key input ingredients, chemicals and packaging) may be in shorther supply.

"In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups."

Although public water supplies are "likely to remain largely unaffected", the paper says that a failure in the chemical supply chain could affect "up to 100,000s of people".

Elsewhere, the Operation Yellowhammer document also warns that public protests "may absorb significant amounts of police resource  - there may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions".

In a letter to former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve who led the calls for the Government to release communications between Number 10 advisers on prorogation, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said that was "an unprecedented, inapproriate and disproprtionate" request which would not be complied with.

Responding to the Yellowhammer papers, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: "These documents confirm the severe risks of a No Deal Brexit, which Labour has worked so hard to block. 

"It is completely irresponsible for the government to have tried to ignore these stark warnings and prevent the public from seeing the evidence. 

"Boris Johnson must now admit that he has been dishonest with the British people about the consequence of a no deal Brexit. 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."