Operation Yellowhammer stood down and Get Ready for Brexit comms campaign paused after EU extension

Written by Richard Johnstone on 29 October 2019 in News
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No-deal Brexit operations centre to be wound down for the second time this year

Photo: PA

Government preparations for a no-deal Brexit at the end of October are being wound down after European Union leaders agreed to a request to extend the UK’s membership of the bloc by three months.

Following confirmation by European Council president Donald Tusk that the exit date had been deferred to 31 January, the government confirmed that it was beginning to wind down a number of preparations for a no-deal Brexit, including the Operation Yellowhammer contingency measures and the controversial get Ready for Brexit comms campaign.

Yellowhammer is the government’s planning for a possible no-deal exit, coordinated by the Cabinet Office’s civil contingencies secretariat.


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The unit had developed planning assumptions for the impact of a no-deal Brexit, which predicted food and medicine shortages, public disorder and traffic gridlock if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The unit was also charged with providing a “coordination system across the government and partners for deployment at the time of exit, to allow the rapid identification of impacts [of any problems], fast decision making and delivery of effective responses”.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove triggered the implementation of the Yellowhammer plans last week, despite the prime minister, Boris Johnson, having officially requested a Brexit extension. Hundreds of civil servants were moved to work on no-deal preparations full time, with departments most affected by a possible no-deal exit being lent staff under a “buddy” system.

The Cabinet Office confirmed the campaign has now been stood down, although broader no-deal planning will continue.

This is the second time this year that the operations centre has been stood up and then disbanded. The unit was first put in place in March and April ahead of the UK’s initial spring deadline for leaving the bloc, but was wound down when the extension to 31 October was agreed.

Highways England has also announced that Operation Brock, a series of traffic-control measures to mitigate disruption on road routes to the port of Dover and Eurotunnel in Kent, would be stood down. It said speed restrictions and diversions, which came into effect only yesterday, would be lifted "as soon as it is practicable".

The Get Ready for Brexit communications campaign launched after Johnson was appointed has also been paused.

The launch of the £100m drive last month was controversial as it coincided with the prime minister's unsuccessful attempts to call a general election, and has generated further controversy by continuing despite parliament passing legislation intended to stop a no-deal Brexit. The Cabinet Office has produced a detailed rebuttal of the criticism and insisted it “does not contain party political messaging”.

Now the extension has been agreed, the campaign has been paused and will be reviewed. Information on GOV.UK will continue to be updated.

Civil service chief executive John Manzoni once again defended the campaign in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, dated 25 October but published yesterday

“The campaign aims to provide the facts citizens and businesses need to know about the steps they need to take to be ready for when the UK leaves the EU,” he wrote to committee chair Meg Hillier.

“Its impact is evaluated using the Government Communication Service evaluation framework. It is based on the latest industry thinking and is seen as an example of best practice in evaluating the impact of communication. We are using this framework to measure changes in public awareness of the campaign and the effectiveness of specific calls to action that direct both citizens and businesses to relevant information.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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