No-Deal Brexit Would Be A Disaster For The United Kingdom

A newly released report leaked from inside the British Government notes that a hard Brexit is likely to be a disaster for the British economy.

Leaked documents from inside the British government are forecasting widespread economic and social disruption if the country goes through with the no-deal Brexit that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apparently planning for:

Britain would face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, jamming ports and requiring a hard border in Ireland, according to government documents leaked to The Sunday Times of London, a scenario Brexit opponents have long warned about.

The forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst-case scenarios, the newspaper said.

Up to 85 percent of trucks using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improves, the documents suggest, according to the British news outlet.

The files show that the government also believed that a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and Ireland, which will remain a European Union member state, would be most likely since current plans to avoid widespread checks would prove unsustainable, the report said.

“Compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the code name Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier offers a rare glimpse into the covert planning being carried out by the government to avert a catastrophic collapse in the nation’s infrastructure,” the newspaper reported.

“The file, marked ‘official sensitive’ — requiring security clearance on a ‘need to know’ basis — is remarkable because it gives the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s readiness for a no-deal Brexit.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office told the newspaper that it did not comment on leaked documents.

But on Sunday, the cabinet minister in charge of no-deal planning, Michael Gove, said on Twitter that the leaked documents reflected “a worst-case scenario” and that the government had significantly accelerated its planning in the past three weeks.

He mocked a claim by one of the journalists behind the report that a more severe scenario had been discussed under the code name “Black Swan,” saying that was not a government document “but a film about a ballet dancer.”

A junior energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, also sought to play down the report in an interview with a British broadcaster.

“I think there’s a lot of scaremongering around and a lot of people are playing into ‘Project Fear,’ ” he told Sky News when asked about the leaked government document. “We’ve got to prepare for no deal. We will be fully prepared to leave without a deal on Oct. 31.”


Analysts say that Britain is heading toward a constitutional crisis at home and a showdown in Brussels as Mr. Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave European Union by the current deadline, Oct. 31, without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce. This week, he heads to Europe for his first official foreign trip as prime minister to meet with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to make his case.

Mr. Johnson planned to tell Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel that Westminster cannot stop Brexit and that a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving without one.

After more than three years of Brexit dominating European affairs, negotiators in Brussels have repeatedly refused to reopen the withdrawal agreement, which includes an Irish border insurance policy that Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, agreed to in November.
Britain’s Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, said on Twitter on Sunday that he had signed legislation that set in stone the repeal of the 1972 European Communities act, the laws that made Britain a member of the organization now known as the European Union.

Though his move was largely procedural, in line with previously approved laws, Mr. Barclay said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back.”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers have written to Mr. Johnson calling for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and Parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until Oct. 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.

More from The Guardian:

The UK will face a three-month meltdown at its ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine if it leaves the EU without a deal, according to government documents on Operation Yellowhammer.

The documents predict severe extended delays to medicine supplies and shortages of some fresh foods combined with price rises as a likely scenario if the UK leaves without a withdrawal agreement, which is due to happen on 31 October.

They suggest there has been a worsening of the risk since documents leaked to the Guardian showed some of the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenarios” (RWCS) involved risk to medicine supplies and disruption to food chains.

The dossier, compiled this month, says up to 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs and could face queues of two and a half days, the Sunday Times reported.

Medical supplies will be “vulnerable to severe extended delays” as three-quarters of the UK’s medicines enter the country via the main Channel crossings, and the availability of fresh food will be reduced and prices will rise, which could hit “vulnerable groups”

The government also believes the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks would prove unsustainable.


With the likelihood of no deal increasing, more than 100 MPs from across the political parties have called on Johnson to recall parliament to allow for debate on Brexit.

Moves are under way by Tory rebels along with Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and other MPs to legislate against no deal. If that fails they are working on replacing Johnson with a caretaker government after a vote of no confidence.

Johnson’s strategy is to blame parliamentarians for blocking Brexit, before a possible general election that he would fight on a “people versus parliament” platform.

The details set forth in the leaked report that have been reported on so far are not at all surprising. It’s been a known fact from the beginning that Brexit was going to be disruptive to the British economy in particular with or without a deal but that the consequences of a no-deal Brexit would be far worse. This is why former Prime Minister Theresa May was trying to pursue a deal. Essentially, the deal she was trying to negotiate and get Parliamentary approval for was designed to mitigate as much as possible the negative consequences of leaving the European Union or to at least spread them out so that they didn’t hit the British economy all at once, which is what will happen in the even of the no-deal Brexit that the Prime Minister appears to be aiming for at this point.

All of this comes within the first month of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister and just 75 days before the Brexit deadline of October 31st. Later this week, amid the G-7 Summit in France, Johnson will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders in the hope of negotiating a new Brexit deal. The prospects that these efforts will be successful are fairly low, though, given the E.U. negotiators have made clear that they consider the deal they reached with Theresa May to be the final deal notwithstanding the fact that the House of Commons has rejected that agreement and appears unlikely to agree to any deal that the E.U. might give to Johnson at this late date.

So, for better or worse, it looks like the United Kingdom is headed for a hard Brexit and all the consequences that is going to mean, which looks pretty bad if this report is any indication. As I’ve said before, all of this could have been avoided if the British public had listened to the voices of reason rather than the siren call of nationalism epitomized by the likes of Nigel Farage and the other Brexiteers. They didn’t, of course, and now their nation appears headed toward disaster in just over two months. Nice work there.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. de stijl says:

    The reports cited list only the up-front and short term effects.

    Long-term, no multinational will headquarter in the UK. Why? It would be foolish.

    What headquarters are there will move to Germany or France or Belgium. Someplace safer. They will have outposts to capture what market they can, but no more than that.

    That will be a major draw down of talent and capital and an economic withdrawal from Britain to the continent. What remains will be a backwater.

    A no-deal Brexit is a conscious choice to make the UK less vital and relegate itself to the third tier. Remove London as a world economic hub almost on the same tier as NYC.

    To what end?

    I really, really don’t understand the end game.

    Is it just xenophobic revulsion? It’s crazy.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I wonder if the greater damage will be psychological rather than economic. Brits still think they’re a player on the world stage. But their post WW2 prominence has been due first to the Special Relationship and then to their perfect position between the Anglosphere and Europe. And they just threw all that away. Now they aren’t middlemen or brokers, they’re supplicants, begging Europe for trade deals, begging the US for trade deals, and they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

    They have the GDP of California, but spread across twice the population. Their military is outdated and undermanned. In diplomacy they will carry no weight at all. Their birth rate is well below replacement, which means if they are to grow it will be through the very immigration the Brexiteers fear. This is a country in decline which will no longer have the position to pretend otherwise.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    There’s a discussion over at EUreferendum as to whether this leaking of the documents is by some public servant trying to halt a no-deal Brexit, or whether it’s a double-cross strategy on the part of BoJo and the ERM Tories trying to make a no-deal Brexit sound absolutely appalling. The idea is that when absolute disaster doesn’t happen immediately, there will be a Tory rebound, allowing Boris et al. to get re-elected in a General Election if they call it quickly enough.

    I still don’t understand the concept behind all of this. Everyone, both Tories and Labour, are still locking horns over Who Will Be Prime Minister in the future and Whose Party Will Be In Charge, totally ignoring the very real possibility of the U.K.’s economy cascading into acute failure. The media are cheerfully printing political horse-race articles. No one except for a very few people like I. Rogers (ex-ambassador to the EU) and Richard North (who runs EUreferendum) have looked at the actual difficulty of untangling the U.K. from the E.U. and how to keep U.K. trade going.

    Have any of you had to deal with a family member who lives in financial chaos and you feel you have to keep rescuing him/her financially because otherwise he/she would be living under a bridge? That’s the impression I get watching what’s going on with the U.K. If the E.U. has enough guts, it will call the U.K.’s bluff and let it hit rock bottom.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Mr. Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave European Union by the current deadline, Oct. 31, without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

    Reading this the image of Boris holding a gun to his head comes to mind.

    The Brexiters can’t seem to get it through their heads, that it is in the EU’s interest to make withdrawal from the union as difficult and painful as possible.

    And Nancy Pelosi has reiterated that there will be no UK-US trade agreement with out an Irish border backstop.

  5. Argon says:

    I saw the same thing published in ‘Duh! The British Journal of the Bloody Obvious’, a few years ago. It’s not as if Theresa May’s departure has changed the outcome of a no-deal Brexit. Also, the UK government’s agencies that reviewed the impact hadn’t said a lot different previously. So this is not really ‘news’ today. It’s going to be a huge fuster cluck for the UK if they fall out with no deal.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Reading this the image of Boris holding a gun to his head comes to mind.

    This is what comes to my mind.

  7. Gustopher says:

    The government also believes the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks would prove unsustainable.

    That sounds troubling

  8. Kathy says:

    Testing part of another post today:

    Why doesn’t Britain just buy Ireland?

  9. de stijl says:

    Brexiteers: Hey! We just want to announce we no longer want to be in the G7 and you should just think of us like you think about Croatia if Croatia weren’t in the EU.

    Screw you guys; I’m going home.

    Thanks for your attention!

    Everybody else: WTF just happened?

  10. dmichael says:

    @Argon: This is “bloody obvious” to anyone who has even a basic understanding of the UK and EU. I know that Doug probably posted this to provide an opportunity for debate in these comments but who in their right mind could be sanguine about a “no-deal Brexit?” Concerning just one issue, the “Real Irish Republican Army” is undoubtedly preparing for renewed bombings on any checkpoints between Northern Ireland and the Republic that will be installed as part of this mess. Smugglers are probably lining up cooperators in Northern Ireland that will move into action as soon as the shortages hit the UK. The stupid, it burns.

  11. de stijl says:

    Today I learned Boris Johnson is referred to as “BoJo”.

    I feel diminished and dirty.

  12. Joe says:

    In a few years, Ireland will be able to buy the UK, cheap.

  13. de stijl says:


    After buying the UK, I’d buy up all of their farm output and ship it back to Ireland.

    Tell them that starvation is good for their souls.

    Chuck the excess into the Irish Sea.

    What comes around goes around and karma is a bitch.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @de stijl: Suggest you don’t ever read the comments over at The Telegraph on anything Irish-related if you want to keep your blood pressure down. It seems that for a sizeable percentage of Brexiters, the only role Ireland can possibly play in the U.K.’s future is as whipping boy and dogsbody. They constantly rage about the Irish and the role the Republic of Ireland plays in the EU, along with a lot of racist and homophobic comments about the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. (They especially love calling him “little Leo”, which is crap considering he’s much taller than their idol Boris Johnson.)

  15. tony says:

    Leaving the EU is not just about money, it’s also about democracy and self-determination, which Americans should know about.

  16. de stijl says:

    I’m 1/8 Irish.

    And I’m still that angry and resentful.

    I’m also 1/2 Swedish, so I also kinda hate Norwegians. Not sure why at all. They actually seem like really nice folks.

    White American’s take on where they are from and what that means to them is utterly alien to Europeans.

    We say “I’m n% Scottish. It’s so cool to be here.” They think and sometimes say out loud, “You have no idea, no clue, and you’re ignorant.”

    It’s a disconnect.

    (Actually, in the contretemps as to why I should hate Norwegians, the Swedes were the aggressors and the bad guys.)

  17. Barry says:

    @tony: “Leaving the EU is not just about money, it’s also about democracy and self-determination, which Americans should know about.”

    At this point, ‘democracy’ means that a campaign based on life getting better is openly bragging that they lied, and that life will get worse. ‘Democracy’ also means that Parliamnent will be shut down as needed.

    ‘Self-determination’ will mean that the UK abases itself before Donald f-ing Trump, begging for scraps.

  18. de stijl says:

    Democracy also means that we had a vote that one time and the results are forever. No backsies!

    A new referendum is bad for the Union.

  19. de stijl says:

    If it’s a no-deal hard Brexit, Scotland leaves the Union and there’s no Tory led government for decades if ever. There will be a Welsh independence movement and party.

    Within five years, whatever’s remaining of the UK will beg for re-admittance.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    …it’s also about democracy and self-determination, which Americans should know about.

    Well they might, if their presidents were actually elected democratically…

  21. de stijl says:

    If Labour had a brain and someone, anyone not named Corbyn at the top, they would be electoral solid lead-pipe total lock gold for a generation.

    It’s the confluence of the idiots too concerned about themselves to see a bigger picture.

    It is painful to watch.

  22. de stijl says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Hey, now!

    At the CD level it is 100% democratic.

    At the state level it’s quasi-democratic.

    At the federal level it’s a republic decision that approaches democracy.

    Our election system is weird and every now and again gives us results like Bush and Trump.

    Everybody gives us a hard time about that. Changing the constitution is wicked hard. We just can’t have a referendum. It does not work that way.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @tony: Yep, I’m 100% certain the vast majority of the people of the UK voted to impoverish themselves into perpetuity. Oh wait a minute, it was a bare majority that voted for a Brexit and only some of them voted for this Brexit.

    That’s some self determination for you.

  24. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl: that whole post is largely hysteric bollocks. Brexit will be a disaster of course, but Welsh independence movement and 5 years… hysteric unrealistic exaggerated bollocks as is your hysteric comments about UK and multi-nationals.
    @tony: Lopping of one’s hand to get free of it…

  25. Lounsbury says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s Bolshy attitudes for you. One Vote One Time.

  26. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl: On this yes…. had only they not let the Left activist Fringe take over the party in 2015 on Millbrand’s exit. A moderately competent and trusted Labour leader would have massacred the Conservatives.

    But for the Activists pining for the Revolution, much better to be pure.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    …the image of Boris holding a gun to his head comes to mind.

    “Oh yeah? Well laugh all you want, but you’re next.

  28. JohnSF says:

    What takes the biscuit is the reaction of Leavers to this in Schrodinger’s Brexitland:

    At one and the same time, it’s true and false.
    It’s Project Fear, that they bravely rejected, and it’s what they bravely accepted to pursue higher goals.
    No Deal wasn’t possible, but it’s great and it’s what they want, but it’s a WTO deal not No Deal, but if it’s bad it’s because of the rotten Remainers and the EU, but it doesn’t need preparations because it will be great, and it doesn’t need preparation because the EU will concede, but if there’s no preparation and there’s problems that’s because of Remainers…

    “Sovereignty! Democracy! Lunacy!”

    A massive problem is that a large segment of Leaver support is hagridden by a sense of grievance that leaves them unable to accept that the warning of the consequences of Brexit are not just a scheme to deny them their triumph, and a conviction they’ve been so hard done by others that obviously they can’t end up worse off…

    The crippling effect of perceived underprivilege.

    At the same time, a large part of the Leave leadership is so accustomed to other people making things work as they wish, and with little background in “physically based” skills, that they can’t really grasp that reality in this case may not accommodate their desires, or that bad consequences may happen to them.

    The crippling effect of perceived privilege.