A leaked dossier indicates the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement could be worse for the country’s businesses than the government had previously admitted, says Adam Johnson, director of Leeds-based Tudor International Freight.
Operation Yellowhammer - the project taking place across Whitehall intended to address the immediate impacts of a no-deal Brexit - was leaked to the Sunday Times.
The government has pledged repeatedly to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October without a withdrawal agreement, if it cannot finalise one with the bloc before then.
Mr Johnson said: “According to the newspaper’s reports, the document says ‘the most likely aftershocks’ of a no-deal Brexit will include a three-month ‘meltdown’ at British ports leading to the short Channel crossings. This is because up to 85 per cent of UK lorries ‘may not be ready’ for French customs.
“Although the dossier predicts traffic flow would improve to 50 to 70 per cent of the current rate after that, it admits disruption would last many months. In a reasonable worst-case scenario, the report also says, heavy goods vehicles could face delays of up to two-and-a-half days before crossing the border.”
Mr Johnson said the Operation Yellowhammer document additionally outlined likely disruption in the provision of certain types of goods, such as medicines and medical supplies. It also stated important parts of the food supply chain, including fresh produce, ingredients, chemicals and packaging, may become scarcer, reducing choice and increasing prices for consumers.
He said: “The dossier’s predictions about areas where impacts had been widely forecast are alarming enough. But it also prophesies some important results which are new to the logistics industry, despite there being little more than two months to go until they could become reality and the sector’s representative bodies having held regular conversations with the government about Brexit during the last three years.
“These have led to strongly worded accusations from responsible and respected organisations, such as the Freight Transport Association, of ministers concealing important facts affecting businesses’ ability to operate viably after a no-deal departure.”
Mr Johnson said the report revealed, for example, that the government’s plans to waive customs duties on imported petrol after a no-deal Brexit, alongside the EU inevitably imposing tariffs on fuel exported from the UK, could lead to the closure of two domestic refineries. This development would potentially affect supplies, hindering the ability of organisations like his to transport goods for UK businesses, both within Britain and abroad.
He said: “The government has not disputed the Operation Yellowhammer document’s authenticity and its response to the leak has been unconvincing. Michael Gove, the cabinet minister responsible for no-deal Brexit planning, has claimed, for example, that the dossier is somewhat dated and preparations for this outcome are now more advanced than when it was written.
“Mr Gove has also said the report is based on worst-case scenarios, which may not occur. But it’s noteworthy that he’s produced no specific new estimates to supersede those the leaked document contains.”
Overall, Mr Johnson said, the dossier indicated the effects of a cliff-edge departure could be worse for UK companies than the government had previously admitted.
He said: “That underlines the importance of enough MPs opposed to this outcome uniting around the most expedient way to prevent it, of the several methods available to them, when the House of Commons returns from its summer recess early next month.”
Mr Johnson said it was encouraging that most MPs opposed a no-deal Brexit and that the Speaker, John Bercow, had promised to do his utmost to ensure the voice of Parliament prevailed on the matter.
He said: “Avoiding this fate may mean some politicians setting aside factors such as party loyalty and their usual disapproval of the philosophies and policies of certain colleagues. But as they’ll need to do this only temporarily, we hope it will happen, if necessary. As the Operation Yellowhammer report shows, such behaviour would be very much in the national interest, including that of the businesses we serve.”