Dismore questions Mayor over the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Andrew Dismore AM, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden questioned the Mayor Sadiq Khan over the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit given the Operation Yellowhammer paper, and the secrecy surrounding other Government assessments of the impact.

Mr Dismore asked:


‘Now the Operation Yellowhammer document has been made fully public, what is your assessment of the stress to London’s economic, community and civil resilience from the UK leaving the EU without a deal?

‘Would you agree that the Operation Yellowhammer document is remarkable for what it doesn’t cover?  Do you consider it provides enough information for Local Resilience Forums to make contingency plans, bearing in mind there are other ‘orthinologically’ named Government papers about ‘no deal’ which have been kept secret, such as Operation Kingfisher, about impacts on business, which was recently leaked to the Sunday Times, stating that only businesses for which “distress or loss of investment would be economically critical” would be given extra support so that only the largest businesses will be eligible for Government help. According to an internal Cabinet Office report last month, only 37% of small and medium-sized enterprises have made sufficient, or in some cases any, preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Shouldn’t this Operation Kingfisher paper also be published?

‘Then there is Operation Snow Bunting, about the police response, also not published. Ministers are reported to have voiced concern that overstretched police officers from the cities will be sent to help transport problems affecting the Channel ports. One cabinet source is reported as saying: “I can’t believe we are planning to take officers off the street at a time knife crime is rising.” There are also plans to deploy police in and around supermarkets, for fear that panic-buying of food could cause chaos. Shouldn’t this paper also be published, bearing in mind that the Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House again confirmed at the Police and Crime Committee on Tuesday that key crime-fighting tools would be lost and their replacements would not be as effective, Sir Stephen explaining in detail why we would be less safe as a result?

‘And the last secret paper, Operation Black Swan, apparently sets out the worst case scenario about events that come as a surprise and have huge repercussions. Isn’t this the most important of all and shouldn’t it be published?  And if there is a second referendum, which like you I hope there is, shouldn’t the public have the full picture, including what is contained in all these documents?’

The Mayor replied that City Hall and the London Resilience Forum are working on no deal preparations, but this has been hindered by the Government not sharing information, such as the underlying assumptions or their mitigation plans. The chair of the British Medical Association has raised concerns about preparedness for the supply and distribution of medicine, and price rises for basic goods will have a detrimental impact on poverty.

The Mayor said that the key thing is to be as prepared as possible. If there is sensitive information contained in the reports that cannot be shared with the public, they should at least be shared with agencies like the police. But he believed the Government is working in silos, so different departments don’t know what others are doing.

The Mayor said that the public should be given all the information as Brexit is no longer an abstract concept, and we now know what it really looks like, which is why it should be taken back to the people.

Notes for editors

What does Operation Yellowhammer predict will happen?

The UK will be affected by two major sources of disruption in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. In the first case, the volume of goods able to go in and out of the UK will be sharply reduced, causing supply problems. In the second case, processes and permissions will change overnight, removing access to services, databases and people.

Freight disruption

Setting out the short-term assumptions for the consequences of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, the central problem in the Yellowhammer documents is the impact on freight transit between the UK and EU at the short Channel Straits, where 4.2m lorries transit each year.

Operation Yellowhammer assumes:

  1. A reduction of 40-60% in the number of HGVs able to enter the UK via the short straits on day one of no deal
  2. After three months, this is predicted to reduce to a 30-50% reduction in traffic
  3. Delays to any individual freight shipment are estimated at 1.5-2.5 days

This equates to between 850,000 and 1.25 million fewer lorries in the six months after no deal, with a drop of 2.1-2.9 million over the course of the year after.

There is less scope for short term adaptation to this in food, medicine, and fuel.


  • Transit problems will reduce the choice of foods on offer, and increase prices.
  • Because the UK growing season is over and demand rises at Christmas, there will be little chance for domestic producers to fill the gaps.
  • “There is a risk that panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption”.
  • The Government has no detail on how much food prices will rise by, because they do not know what will happen to trade flows nor how households will react.


  • Three quarters of medical imports come through the Dover-Calais crossing. Coupled with the time-sensitive nature of the supplies and limited ability to substitute suppliers, means medicines are “particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”.
  • Stockpiling is not feasible for some products because of limited shelf-life. This reduces the ability to plan for no deal, because the length and scale of disruption cannot be predicted.
  • The Government has a serious shortage protocol which allows prescribers “to offer a reduced dose, vary drug strengths, provide a generic alternative or offer alternative products” This is likely to cause panic among patients.
  • The Government has tendered for an express delivery services for medicines affected by disruption through normal channels, from 1 November. At the beginning of July, the initial notice put this at a £3m contract, but the updated listing values it at £25m.


  • Congestion could affect fuel distribution into London and Kent. It is not set out what effect this would have on emergency services or supply distribution.
  • Panic buying would worsen the situation and is noted as a problem across the rest of the country.

Regulatory disruption

The UK will take on third-country status with the EU and trade partners.

  • Financial flows and other service industries will be hit by the loss of mutual recognition and additional taxes. Mitigation is supposed to come by way of businesses preparing themselves for the change, but uncertainty and “EU exit fatigue” have limited the extent of this.
  • The Government’s promise to waive checks on the Irish border “is likely to prove unsustainable due to severe economic, legal and biosecurity risks.”
  • Data will immediately become restricted and “an adequacy assessment could take years”. This includes personal data as well as access to criminal databases. The Institute for Government notes that the UK is beginning to use alternative routes to share information, but these are “less effective”.
  • The UK Government (and European governments) will be forced to deal with large numbers of citizens resident in their countries without a clear legal basis for rights they have hitherto enjoyed.
  • Medical supply chains are “highly regulated” in the goods transported and also the method of distribution. Waiving checks to reduce congestion and wastage would create contamination risk.
  • The BMJ have compared the post-Brexit situation to that of low income countries: “Medicines have several characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to supply chain threats. These can be fatal, something that is observed every day in many low income countries where procurement, transport, and supply problems allow sub-standard medicines to reach the market”.
  • Newer medicines cannot be substituted because they are individually tailored, such as for cancer or epilepsy.

Operation Kingfisher – about impacts on business

  • This is the government’s contingency plans to prop up businesses, that was created in the run-up to the first EU exit deadline earlier this year by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It was leaked to the Sunday Times 13 October 2019.
  • The Kingfisher document highlights “areas vulnerable to a shock by virtue of having large plants, in vulnerable sectors, with labour markets that would struggle to cope”. This includes leave voting areas such as  Salisbury, Sunderland and Carlisle.
  • In the run-up to the first exit date, Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, wrote to the other permanent secretaries, stating that only businesses for which “distress or loss of investment would be economically critical” would be given extra support.
  • The letter, which has also been leaked to The Sunday Times, warned that “the vast majority of firms will need to rely on management action, commercial finance and ‘business as usual’ government support”, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Among civil servants there are concerns that this will mean that only the largest businesses will be eligible for bailouts.
  • According to an internal Cabinet Office report presented to Michael Gove’s no-deal planning exit operations committee last month, just 37% of small and medium-sized enterprises have made sufficient, or in some cases any, preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Operation Black Swan – worst case scenario

  • It has been difficult to find out more but Black Swan refers to the worst-case-scenario planning. Black swan events are those that come as a surprise and have huge repercussions.

Operation Snow Bunting – relating to police responses

  • Kent police has asked for extra help to deal with traffic and related problems if the Channel ports are clogged up, calling for officers to be deployed and placed on standby from around the country. The plan is called Operation Snow Bunting.
  • In March 2019, it was reported that Ministers voiced concern that already stretched police resources will be diverted from Britain’s cities to help contend with any traffic and transport problems arising in Kent from a no-deal Brexit affecting the Channel ports.
  • Frustrated ministers who are opposed to no deal say the shift in resources should not be happening. One cabinet source said: “I can’t believe we are planning to take officers off the street at a time knife crime is rising.”
  • There are also plans in place to deploy officers in and around supermarkets and other shops at the end of March. The fear is that people panic-buying food could cause chaos.
  • At the Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Tuesday Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House confirmed  that key crime-fighting tools including the European Arrest Warrant, Schengen Information System, European Criminal Records Information System, Europol and Eurojust would be lost and their replacements would not be as effective. These tools also aim to assist with sharing data rapidly, informing prompt and effective action, and coordinating and driving joint action.

Brexit readiness document (published 8 October 2019)

  • The 159-page document could be seen as part of an attempt to demonstrate to voters, and also to EU leaders, that the country is ready for no deal.
  • The report says Brexit will end free movement of people, allowing the government to “boost the labour market” through a “fairer immigration system” based on skills and talent. It restates its commitment to EU citizens who “will continue to be able to work, study and access benefits and services such as the NHS” on the same basis after 31 October. EU citizens wishing to remain in the country have until 31 December 2020 to apply for settled status.
  • A new scheme, called European temporary leave to remain, will be introduced for EU citizens who want to settle in the UK after 31 October. From January 2021 the government will introduce an Australian-style points based system that will apply to all EU citizens newly entering the country.
  • Planes will continue to fly. But trains and coach journeys may be affected.
  • Trade will be heavily affected. In a no-deal scenario, the UK and the EU will trade on World Trade Organization terms.