Thursday 26 September 2019 / 9:44 AM Brexit / Keir Starmer

Labour demands answers over Operation Yellowhammer

Keir Starmer has today called on Michael Gove to provide urgent clarification about the Government’s no deal plans and whether it has complied with Parliament’s request for all Operation Yellowhammer documents to be released.


The Shadow Brexit Secretary has written to Michael Gove this morning accusing him of trying to frustrate Parliament from doing its job “by refusing to engage in proper scrutiny” in yesterday’s statement to the House of Commons.


In the letter, Starmer demands Gove comes to Parliament to “correct the record” after business leaders denied his claims about industry’s preparedness for a no deal Brexit.


He also accuses the Government of failing to provide all of the Operation Yellowhammer documents requested by Parliament through the Humble Address. He says: “It seems apparent to me that the Government has not complied with this part of the order. But before I consider what action we should take, I invite you to address this issue by reply.”




Notes to editor


Full text of the letter:


Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Cabinet Office

70 Whitehall




26 September 2019


Dear Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster




Yesterday, you gave a statement to the House of Commons about the Government’s preparedness for a no deal Brexit. I was deeply disappointed by your disregard and flippant response to the questions that I and other colleagues asked.


On Tuesday, the Supreme Court found that the Government’s attempt to frustrate Parliament’s ability to do its job through prorogation was unlawful. Yesterday, you frustrated Parliament by refusing to engage in proper scrutiny. You treated meaningful questions from Members of Parliament with contempt. The public witnessed a Cabinet minister treating the issue of a no deal Brexit as if it was a game and playing politics with the future of our country.


I am therefore writing for an immediate response to the specific questions I asked.


Consequences of a no deal Brexit


In your response to my questions, you told the House: “The automotive sector, which I met earlier this week, confirmed that it was ready [for a no deal]. The retail sector has confirmed that it is ready.”[i]


However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said three days ago: “A ‘no deal’ Brexit would have an immediate and devastating impact on the industry, undermining competitiveness and causing irreversible and severe damage.”[ii]


The British Retail Consortium also issued an immediate statement in response to your remarks, saying: “It is impossible to completely mitigate the significant disruption which would be caused by no deal.”[iii]


Will you now accept that the remarks you made were to say the least wholly inaccurate and will you correct the record in the House at the earliest opportunity? And will you publish an updated assessment of the impact of a no deal Brexit on people’s jobs, businesses and the economy?


Northern Ireland border


Paragraph 18 of the Operation Yellowhammer document sets out the Government’s model for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. However, it goes on to say:


“The agri-food sector will be hardest hit… disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockages. Price and other differentials are likely to lead to the growth of the illegitimate economy. This will be particularly severe in border communities where both criminal and dissident groups already operate with greater threat and impunity.”[iv]


This is an explicit admission that the Government’s current proposals for the Northern Ireland border under a no deal scenario are insufficient.


Will the Government publish an update on its proposals? And how will the Government seek to prevent these very serious consequences?


No deal planning under Operation Yellowhammer


On the process behind the release of Operation Yellowhammer documents:


  • Was the document released to Parliament on 11 September prepared by the last Government, the current Government or both?


  • Has the current Government prepared any further documents relating to Operation Yellowhammer since the 23 July? If so, will the Government commit to releasing these at the earliest opportunity?


  • The only difference between the document leaked to the Sunday Times on 18 August and what the Government has now published is that one refers to ‘base scenario’ and the other refers to ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’. When was that title change made and under who’s authorisation?


  • Can you confirm whether – as part of the ongoing Operation Yellowhammer programme – you have received any representation from the energy sector about the impact of oil and gas supplies to the UK in the event of a no deal?


  • You told the Andrew Marr Show on 1 September that the Operation Yellow documents are “constantly updated.” [v] When will the updated documents be published?


For the record, the order passed by the House of Commons on 9 September required the Government to release: “All the documents prepared within Her Majesty’s Government since 23 July 2019 relating to Operation Yellowhammer and submitted to the Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee.”[vi]


It seems apparent to me that the Government has not complied with this part of the order. But, before I consider what action we should take, I invite you to address this issue by reply.


Negotiations with the European Union (EU)


In your statement you said that the negotiations with the EU “have seen significant movement over recent weeks.”[vii]


Can you confirm that the Government has submitted four so-called ‘non-papers’ to the European Commission on its proposals for the Irish border? And will you will publish these papers to give Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the credibility of the Government’s proposals?


I would welcome an urgent response to the questions raised in this letter or a further statement from you in the Commons.


Yours sincerely


Keir Starmer QC MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union


[i] Official Report, 25 September 2019; Vol. 664, c. 722

[ii] Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, ‘EU Automotive leaders unite to say “no” to ‘no deal’ Brexit,’ 22 September 2019

[iii] British Retail Consortium, ‘It is impossible to completely mitigate the disruption of no deal,’ 25 September 2019

[iv] Operation Yellowhammer, HMG Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions, 2 August 2019

[v] BBC, Andrew Marr Show: Michael Gove, 1 September 2019

[vi] Official Report, 9 September 2019; Vol. 664, c 522

[vii] Official Report, 25 September 2019; Vol. 644, c. 717