What Operation Yellowhammer means for you: Food, water, disorder

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Fresh food supplies 'will decrease' according to the Operation Yellowhammer document. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s confidential no-deal Brexit planning document, has been released.

The six-page dossier, dated 2 August, outlines what could reasonably be expected to happen in the event of the “worst case” scenario.

It warns of disruptions to supply chains and crucial data flows, says that low-income groups will be “disproportionately affected” by price increases, and notes that there could be panic buying, protests, and a rise in public disorder and community tensions.

The warnings stem from how prepared the UK is for a crash out from the European Union, with the document stating that “public and business readiness for a no-deal will remain at a low level, and will decrease to lower levels.”

This is because “the absence of a clear decision” on Brexit does not provide a “concrete situation for third parties to prepare for,” the document says.

Here is what it means for you.

Food

The Operation Yellowhammer document says that “certain types of fresh food supply will decrease,” and that critical parts of the supply chain, such as ingredients, chemicals and packaging, “may be in shorter supply”.

Noting that there will not be an “overall shortage of food in the UK,” the document warns that these factors will nonetheless “reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price.”

This “could impact vulnerable groups,” the document says, point out that the country’s supply chain would already be under pressure on 31 October due to preparations for Christmas.

“There is a risk that panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption, the document warns.

On Thursday, the Food and Drink Federation said the document “lays bare the grisly crisis facing the UK’s food and drink supply chain in a no-deal Brexit scenario.”

“In a no-deal Brexit scenario there would be significant and adverse changes to product availability, and random shortages,” said the federation’s CEO, Ian Wright.

“Government must be upfront about the chaos a no-deal Brexit would bring.”

Water

While the document says that public water services “are likely to remain largely unaffected” thanks to counteractive measures taken by water companies, it warns that there is a “low” risk of a “failure in the chemical supply chain.”

This is what the document calls the “most significant single risk”, and could affect hundreds of thousands of people.

“Water companies are well prepared for any disruption; they have significant stocks of all critical chemicals,” the document says.

The document nonetheless says that “urgent action may need to be taken to make sure people continue to have access to clean water.”

Disorder

The document notes states simply that “protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource.”

“There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions,” it says.

It notes in a separate section that low-income groups will be “disproportionately” affected by certain consequences of a worst-case scenario.

The document notes that the potential for severe weather, flooding, and seasonal flu could “exacerbate” the situation and “stretch resources.”

In another section, the document warns that border delays could cause “regional traffic disruption,” which could disrupt the fuel supply and lead to localised fuel shortages in other areas.

READ MORE: Operation Yellowhammer unveils horror for UK economy in no-deal Brexit

Data disruption

The document warns that the EU “will not have made a data decision with regard to the UK” before Brexit.

“This will disrupt the flow of personal data from the EU where an alternative legal basis for transfer is not in place”, the document notes.

For the average consumer, it means that websites like Facebook may become inoperable, since those sites store most of their user data in the EU. From a business perspective, it makes difficult the day-to-day transfer of information crucial to the operation of many firms — particularly financial services firms, most of which operate on a cross-border basis.

In another section, the document warns that “some cross-border UK financial services will be disrupted.”

In yet another section, the document warns that “law enforcement data and information sharing between UK and EU will be disrupted.”

Energy, electricity, and gas

“Demand for energy will be met and there will be no disruption to electricity or gas interconnectors,” the document says.

However, it warns that, while there will be no “immediate disruption” to electricity in Northern Ireland, there may be a “rapid” splitting of Ireland’s electricity market, which operates on an all-island basis.

“In this event, there would not be security of supply issues,” the document says. “However, there will likely be significant electricity price increases for consumers (business and domestic), with associated wider economic and political impacts.”

“Some participants could exit the market, thereby exacerbating the economic and political impacts.”

Animal disease outbreaks

Operation Yellowhammer warns that any disruption to veterinary medicine supply chains would “reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks, with potential detrimental impacts for animal health and welfare.”

This could have an impact on the environment and the safety of the food supply, and potentially result in the spread of “zoonotic diseases which can directly impact human health.”

It says that industry stockpiling before 31 October “will not be able to match” the stockpiling that occurred before the last Brexit deadline in March.

Loss of EU citizenship

The document notes that UK nationals will lose their EU citizenship immediately in a no-deal scenario, and “as a result, can expect to lose associated rights and access to services over time, or be required to access them on a different basis to now.

While the document says that all EU member states have now published legislation outlining how UK citizens will be treated, not all of them have passed this legislation.

It also says that there is a “mixed picture” when it comes to the “level of generosity and detail in the legislation.”

It notes that “complex” administrative procedures, language barriers, and Brexit-related uncertainty have contributed to many UK citizens “being slow to take action.”