The British government insisted Thursday that its forecast of food and medicine shortages, gridlock at ports and riots in the streets after a no-deal Brexit is an avoidable worst-case scenario, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied misleading Queen Elizabeth II about his reasons for suspending Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union.
In better news for the embattled British leader, a Belfast court rejected claims that the Conservative government’s Brexit strategy should be ruled illegal because it risked undermining Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Johnson took office in July vowing to get Brexit done on the scheduled Oct. 31 date, even if there is not a divorce deal to smooth the way. But many lawmakers, economists and businesses fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and are fighting him every step of the way.
This week, Parliament forced the government to publish its official assessment of the impact of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.
The six-page classified document, dated Aug. 2, said customs checks meant the number of trucks crossing the main freight route between Calais and Dover would drop by between 40% and 60% within a day of a no-deal Brexit, with disruptions lasting up to three months. The supply of certain types of fresh foods and essential medicines would decrease, prices would go up and the poor would be hit hardest, it said.
The paper also described major disruptions for travelers between Britain and the EU and uncertainty for U.K. citizens living in Europe, and it said attempts to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would probably fail. It also said a no-deal exit could trigger major protests and even riots.
Johnson insisted the bleak scenario was “not where we intend to end up.”
“This is a worst-case scenario which civil servants obviously have to prepare for, but in the last few months, and particularly in the 50 days since I’ve been prime minister, we’ve been massively accelerating our preparations,” he said.
Opposition politicians said the “Operation Yellowhammer” document — the government’s code name for its Brexit preparations — proved that Johnson is reckless to consider leaving the bloc without a deal.
After suffering six defeats in the House of Commons in as many days, Johnson suspended Parliament for five weeks until Oct. 14, sparking outrage among legislators and several legal challenges.
The U.K. Supreme Court is set to consider next week whether the shutdown should be reversed, after conflicting rulings in lower courts.