Michael Gove, the minister in charge of the government’s no-deal Brexit planning, has been told to explain how the government had prepared to mitigate the "worst case scenario" that could arise after October 31 revealed in leaked documents this weekend.
Hilary Benn, chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, wrote to Gove yesterday after a Cabinet Office dossier warning post-Brexit border delays that could cause food, fuel medicine shortages was leaked to the Sunday Times. The documents were produced as part of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer emergency no-deal planning, and also warned that staffing and supply costs could cause social care providers to close.
Commenting on the leak on Twitter, Gove said “v significant steps” had been taken since 1 August to accelerate no-deal planning, when the documents were published internally
Benn has now called on Gove to appear before the Brexit committee this week to explain what these steps are.
We don’t normally comment on leaks - but a few facts - Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario - v significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning - and Black Swan is not an HMG doc but a film about a ballet dancer... https://t.co/lRAgavfDze
— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) August 18, 2019
“Please could you tell me the date on which the report was drawn up, the significant steps that the government has taken in the last three weeks, and how these have mitigated each of the risks identified in the report and to what extent,” he wrote.
Gove is due to give an update to the House of Commons on 3 September, when MPs return from summer recess, but Benn said the Cabinet Office minister should give evidence to the committee on the preparations sooner than that, “given the urgency of these matters”.
“The effectiveness of any steps taken by the government to reduce these impacts must be in some doubt as the government has not notified industry groups about many of the risks that they face,” Benn wrote. He noted that the Freight Transport Association has said it had not been told about the risks to fuel supply set out in the Cabinet Office dossier, and that the CBI had warned businesses were “hampered by unclear advice, timelines and costs”.
The warnings came as Boris Johnson wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk setting out his demands for a withdrawal agreement.
In a letter dated 19 August, the prime minister said working “with energy and determination to achieve an agreement” was his government’s “highest priority”.
But he the EU must be willing to drop the so-called backstop – the arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, whatever the outcome of negotiations about the future relationship between the UK and EU – from the deal agreed by his predecessor, Theresa May, if talks are to go ahead.
The EU has so far rejected calls to reopen the withdrawal agreement.
Johnson said the backstop was “antidemocratic” and that its problems ran “much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons”.
"The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland," he said.
However, in response Tusk said: "The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found. Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it."