Fears low income families would be 'collateral damage' in no deal Brexit

The Government has been accused of allowing low income families to become "collateral damage" to a no deal Brexit.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 11:43 am
Updated Thursday, 12th September 2019, 11:45 am

The Brexit crisis engulfing the nation deepened yesterday as MPs demanded they return to Westminster after a Scottish court ruled the suspension of Parliament had been unlawful.

Scotland’s most senior court ruled the suspension was “null and of no effect” and judges said the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen had been an “improper” attempt to “stymie Parliament”.

Mr Johnson denied today that he had lied to the Queen.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts during a visit with the police in West Yorkshire. Photo: DANNY LAWSON/AFP/Getty Images

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A second embarrassment came for the Government as it was forced to release no deal planning documents - known as Yellowhammer - by an amendment voted through in the House of Commons before prorogation on Monday.

Labour said the no-deal Brexit plans are more like "emergency planning for a war or natural disaster", but the Government insists they are a "worst case scenario".

Labour MPs in the North have taken issue with one paragraph which reads: “Low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel.”

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Yorkshire MPs to return to Parliament after House of Commons suspension is ruled as 'null and of no effect'
File photo showing one of the redacted pages from documents about the planned prorogation of Parliament, with blacked out sections relating to Cabinet meetings and correspondence with the Prime Minister. Photo: Conor Riordan/PA Wire.

Tracy Brabin, for Batley and Spen, tweeted: "I have said this again and again - a no deal Brexit would impact our community much more than the millionaires on the Tory benches and I will not allow my constituents to be collateral damage."

While Mary Creagh, for Wakefield, said: "Five million children already growing up in poverty will pay the price of Johnson’s no-deal Brexit."

She added she was also concerned about water supplies as although the documents said there was no risk to these, there was a low risk of a shortage of the chemicals needed.

The documents said: "Water companies are well-prepared for any disruption, they have significant stocks of all critical chemicals."

Protesters against the prorogation of Parliament. Photo: PA

But Ms Creagh said: "The risk is that hundreds of thousands of people could end up with disruption to their water supplies, because I've heard the water companies only have six weeks of supplies."

She added: "I can see why the Government wanted to suspend Parliament and make sure MPs were not in asking awkward questions on what ministers knew about this and when."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said documents represent a "worst case scenario" plan, and that the Government is working "every day" to mitigate the potential effects.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Wallace said Yellowhammer is a "planning assumption", but stressed that it is only what might happen if the Government was to do nothing to mitigate it.

Labour MP for Leeds Central, Hilary Benn, outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster central London. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

He said: "That is why we are doing things about it. That is why the Chancellor opened his cheque book, that's why we are spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions."

Mr Wallace said: "Every day, we plan everything from whether we need to find alternative suppliers, whether we need to go out to the private sector to charter things, whether we need to plan using our army or our police forces in certain scenarios."

Many of the consequences released in the documents had been revealed in a previous leak. The scenarios are:

- 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.

- The document notes that day one after exit is a Friday "which may not be to our advantage" and may coincide with the end of the October half-term school holidays.

- Flow of cross-Channel goods could be reduced to 40 per cent of current rates on day one, with "significant disruption lasting up to six months", and the document adds:"Unmitigated, this will have an impact on the supply of medicines and medical supplies."

- On food, it warns that some fresh supplies will decrease and that "critical dependencies for the food chain" such as key ingredients "may be in shorter supply". It says these factors would not lead to overall food shortages "but will reduce the availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups".

- Disruption to flow across the short Channel Straits would also cause "significant" queues in Kent and delays to HGVs attempting to use the routes to travel to France. In a reasonable worst case scenario, HGVs could face maximum delays of one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half days before being able to cross the border. The document says the worst disruption to the short Channel Straits might last for up to three months before it improves by a significant level to around 50-70 per cent (due to more traders getting prepared), although there could continue to be some disruption for significantly longer.

- The document says an increase in inflation following EU exit would "significantly" impact adult social care providers due to increasing staff and supply costs, and may lead to provider failure, with smaller providers impacted within two to three months and larger providers four to six months after exit.

- The document says UK citizens travelling to and from the EU "may be subject to increased immigration checks at EU border posts" causing delays.

- The analysis indicates that the aim of avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland may be "unsustainable".

- The document says up to 282 EU and EEA nations fishing vessels could enter illegally, or already be fishing in UK waters on day one which is "likely to cause anger and frustration" in the UK catching sector which could lead to clashes between fishing vessels.

- Public and business readiness for a no-deal will remain at a low level, and will decrease to lover levels, because the absence of a clear decision on the form of EU Exit (customs union, no deal etc) does not provide a concrete situation for third parties to prepare for. Readiness will be further limited by "increasing EU Exit fatigue", the document says.

Yesterday's ruling in Scotland had already prompted calls for Parliament to be recalled, which only gained strength last night.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer called for Parliament to resume as soon as possible.

“That is within his power, and we must take the decisions when we are recalled and back actually doing the job we are sent to Parliament to do.”

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve warned that if Ministers had misled the Queen over the reasons for prorogation, Mr Johnson’s position would be untenable and he would have to resign. The Government said it was “disappointed” by the decision.

Hilary Benn, the Labour MP for Leeds Central and the chairman of the Brexit Select Committee, said: “This is unprecedented, the court has found that the government advice to the Queen was unlawful, the Government should accept that and bring Parliament back.

“I’ve been very clear I think this prorogation was unjustified and I’ve always thought the reason they did it was to prevent Parliament from sitting to deal with matters of Brexit.”

Yorkshire Labour MPs Barry Sheerman, Diana Johnson, Rachel Reeves, and Rachael Maskell said they would return to London immediately to continue representing their constituents. But their desire to uphold democracy was questioned for twice rejecting a general election when Boris Johnson wanted to call one.

Robert Goodwill, the Tory MP for Scarborough and Whitby, said: “It’s a bit rich for Labour and the SNP to talk about democracy when this week they ducked the opportunity to put this to the people in a general election.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman rejected claims the true purpose of suspension was to prevent MPs thwarting his pledge to take Britain out of the EU by October 31, with or without a deal with Brussels.

“We have set out the reasons in public why we have prorogued. That is to allow us to bring forward a new legislative programme,” the spokesman said.

He added the Government would abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court, which will have the final say.

Meanwhile, the leader of Leeds City Council launched a blistering attack on the proroguing of Parliament, describing the move as “closing down democracy”.

Coun Judith Blake called on councillors to write to MPs to express their “disgust”, and said: “This is about closing down democracy and stifling debate.”

Three judges of the Inner House, the supreme civil court in Scotland, dubbed the prorogation of Parliament as “null and of no effect”, paving the way for a showdown at the UK Supreme Court next week.

Meanwhile, a separate court hearing at the High Court in London rejected a case brought by businesswoman Gina Miller, ruling the decision to prorogue Parliament was “purely political” and therefore not capable of challenge in the courts.

This judgement will also be challenged in the UK’s Supreme Court.

The Scottish Court of Session case, brought by a group of more than 70 parliamentarians, appealed against an earlier ruling by a judge that the Prime Minister’s prorogation was lawful.

A summary of the court opinion, published by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, said: “All three First Division judges have decided that the PM’s advice to the HM the Queen is justiciable, that it was motivated by the improper purpose of stymieing Parliament and that it, and what has followed from it, is unlawful.

“The court will accordingly make an order declaring that the Prime Minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect.”

At the hearing, Judge Lord Carloway told the court: “We are of the opinion that the advice given by the Government to Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue

Parliament was unlawful and that the prorogation itself was unlawful.”

Raphael Hogarth, an associate at the Institute for Government, said: “If the Supreme Court rules next week that the prorogation was unlawful, then I’d expect Parliament to be sitting again in very short order.”

A separate court hearing at the High Court in London rejected a case brought by Ms Miller, ruling the decision to prorogue Parliament was “purely political” and therefore not capable of challenge in the courts.

That judgement will also be challenged in the UK’s Supreme Court.

A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK Government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda. Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”