What does the Operation Yellowhammer document say about the impact of ‘no deal’ on Wales?
Ifan Morgan Jones
The first thing to note about the once-secret document outlining Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s ‘no deal Brexit’ plan – is how short it is.
This document has apparently been passed to the Welsh Government to help them prepare for a no deal Brexit on October 31. If this is indicative of the amount of guidance they have received from the Westminster government, Drakeford & Co. really have been left up a certain creek without a paddle.
There are barely five pages of information here.
This means that any real analysis of the government’s no-deal Brexit plan is limited by the lack of information that’s available to us. One part of the document is also redacted, although the text of this missing section was widely circulated on social media within minutes of its publication.
Despite there not being much to go on, and no actual mention of Wales or any locations in the country in the document, a few things stand out that could have a big impact on our country after a no-deal Brexit.
The first and perhaps most worrying is the warning that lorries could, for up to three months, face waiting times of between 1.5 and 2.5 days to cross into EU countries.
Wales’ Holyhead port is the second largest in the UK, handling two million passengers, half a million vehicles and 450,000 freight units a year.
Anyone who has visited the port will note that it is on an island that is surrounded by the town. A Lidl now stands on the site of the old customs offices.
This raises the question: where are all the lorries heading to Dublin going to go? Will they all be queuing over the Britannia Bridge as far as Bangor?
The document also raises fears about the availability of veterinary medicines after a no deal Brexit and the possibility that this could lead to outbreaks of disease.
Because of the lack of arable land, Welsh agriculture is particularly dependent on livestock compared to the other nations of the UK.
One only must remember the devastating impact that foot and mouth disease had on Wales in 2001.
Another noteworthy paragraph in the document warns about the effects on food. While it will not lead to food shortages, the variety of food will fall and prices will increase.
“Low-income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel,” it says.
As we all know Wales is a relatively poor nation within the UK, with 24% of the population defined as living in income poverty according to the Welsh Government.
Then we come to the redacted paragraph.
According to Sunday Times journalist Rosamund Urwin, who received the document as a leak last month, this concerns the fact that EU tariffs will make petrol exports to the EU uncompetitive.
“This leads to significant financial losses and announcement of two refinery closures (and transition to import terminals) and direct job losses (about 2000).”
One of six refineries in the UK is the Pembroke Refinery, which employs 700 people.
It’s impossible of course to know exactly what the impact of a no-deal Brexit will be. The document describes this as the ‘worst case’ scenario, although the Sunday Times journalist notes that this was ‘base case’ in the original leaked document.
It’s a fair assumption, however, based on the UK Government’s own forecasts, that a no-deal would hit Wales comparatively hard.
We can also no doubt expect several unexpected consequences, because nothing like this has ever been tried before. And the government will probably be slow to deal with them because they will be tied up dealing with the predicted negative consequences.
This is not ‘project fear’ – this is the government’s own plans. They are the plans of a government that is committed to leaving without a deal on 31 October if need be.
Whatever your views on Brexit, it seems to that Halloween is going to be a scarier prospect than usual this year, for Wales in particular.