Operation Yellowhammer Leak Reveals No-Deal Planning


An eagle-eyed photographer snapped a copy of emergency plans which will come into effect if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal. The plan has been given the code name ‘Operation Yellowhammer’, in reference to a bird whose song Enid Blyton said resembled: ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese‘.

Treasury minister John Glen’s failure to cover up papers which he carried under his arm resulted in this eye-opening leak:

HMT [His Majesty’s Treasury] briefing – Operation Yellowhammer – 04 September 2018

Operation Yellowhammer: no deal contingency planning

Summary of issue

•This meeting will consider progress on the Government’s plans for mitigating the immediate impacts of a No Deal Brexit.

•The Civil Contingencies Secretariat held a two-day workshop last week to review departments’ plans, assumptions, interdependencies and next steps.

HMT objectives

  1. Emphasise the importance of building XWH [cross Whitehall]communications architecture that can help maintain confidence in the event of contingency plans being triggered – particularly important for financial services.
  2. Explain that departments should be raising Yellowhammer costs through the normal channels – through their spending teams for in-year pressures, and in their bids for 19/20 Brexit allocations for spending that year. Their first call should be internal prioritisation.
  3. Reaffirm the need for consistent planning assumptions across plans […] aviation and rail access to the EU.
  4. Remind departments of the need to consider the financial […] commercial firms that play a role in their contingency plans.

The section of the document captured by @politicalpics highlights government concerns that UK airlines will be grounded and freight trains will be delayed at the EU border. The financial sector is also believed to be at risk. Furthermore, government departments will have to dig into their own budgets when dealing with a cliff-edge Brexit, thus causing subsequent cuts to their other priorities. The population of Yellowhammer birds across the British Isles has recently suffered a decline, although official sources insist that there is no deeper meaning behind the Operation’s title. However, commentators have also noted that in baseball jargon the term refers to a curve-ball, therefore suggesting the difficulty of the issue and the problematic nature of a no-deal Brexit.

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat, responsible for publishing this document, was set up during 2001 in order to strengthen government responses to disasters, disease outbreaks and terror attacks. The Yellowhammer leak follows public statements by ministers that stockpiling will occur in preparation for a clean break with the EU. With May’s Chequers deal unpopular in Parliament and unworkable in Brussels, a no-deal scenario is looking increasingly likely. The Chancellor Philip Hammond, who’s known to favour a softer version of Brexit, has used the opportunity provided by this careless leak to warn that this type of exit would cause cuts.

In this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May quoted the WTO boss who predicted that a no-deal Brexit ‘would not be a walk in the park, but it would not be the end of the world’. In response to the ‘Yellowhammer’ leak, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister stated that: ‘There is a pot of money available and no-one is being told to cut money, no-one is being asked to cut front line spending’. However, the Chancellor acknowledged that: ‘In no-deal circumstances we would have to refocus government priorities so that government was concentrated on the circumstances that we found ourselves in’.

Following the leak, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat’s Twitter account posted simply the words: ‘Yellowhammer’. It is presumed that whoever was operating the account meant to type it into the search bar to investigate the scale of the leak on the site. This Ed Balls-style tweet has since been deleted.

The Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, who backs the People’s Vote campaign, responded that: ‘With the Operation Yellowhammer revelation, we now know the government is preparing for Brexit in the same way they’d approach catastrophes like flooding, a disease outbreak or a terrorist attack’. Another Remain-supporting Labour MP, Owen Smith responded to the leak in rather graphic terms: ‘Operation Yellowhammer is the latest proof that Brexit will be a colossal act of economic self harm for the country. It’s the political equivalent of dismembering yourself.’


Politics Editor 2019/20 BSc Politics & International Relations

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