Lorries waiting

A no-deal Brexit could see long queues of lorries at the Channel Tunnel

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday the UK government was forced to release a report describing the possible impact of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of October, which is looking increasingly possible. The plans had been codenamed Operation Yellowhammer.

Tell it to me straight – what’s the worst that could happen?

Some types of fresh food will be in short supply, thanks to queues of lorries building up at the Channel Crossing. The report says while there will be no overall shortage of food, Brexit “will reduce choice of products and will increase price”. There may also be impact on the supply of drugs and medical supplies, which could mean operations having to be delayed and pharmacies running out of essential medicines like insulin.

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Didn’t we know this already?

Such predictions have been widespread, but Brexit enthusiasts have tended to dismiss them as politically biased scaremongering – “Project Fear”. Now it’s clear that civil servants, who are supposed to be impartial, expect there to be at least some harmful consequences of leaving the European Union without a deal. They predict that from day one the lorry flow rate through the Channel could roughly halve, for up to three months, with “significant disruption” for another three months.

Haven’t businesses been planning for this?

They should have been, as at one point a no-deal Brexit looked on the cards for 29 March, but the UK was granted two extensions. The report warns, however, that the latest Brexit date makes things worse as it coincides with bad winter weather, as well as the usual seasonal flu outbreak. This will exacerbate any problems faced by hospitals. It also falls on a Friday in some schools’ half-term holidays, when more people travel. And the two extensions mean some businesses are in “EU Exit fatigue.”

I know how they feel. Any other surprises?

What’s not on most people’s radar is the impact on data. Torrents of personal data flow back and forth between the UK and the EU, and after a no deal Brexit this would clash with Europe’s data protection rules. No one knows how social media and other tech companies are going to deal with this outcome and any new data-sharing agreement is likely to take years to be agreed.

What are the other pitfalls we should know about?

We’ve been hearing a lot about shortages of medicines for humans, but the report warns that drugs for animals could also be affected, leaving farmers less able to deal with disease outbreaks. Air-freighting in veterinary medicines isn’t as financially viable as for human pharmaceuticals. There could also be petrol shortages in London and the South-East due to lorry queues reaching as far as the Dartford crossing, a bridge over the Thames on the M25.

Is there any good news?

The UK’s water supply is unlikely to be affected.

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