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Operation Yellowhammer: No deal Brexit could compromise ability to control disease

13th Sep 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Disrupted supplies of veterinary medicines in the event of a Brexit no deal risks compromising the ability of livestock producers to prevent and control disease outbreaks.

lorry queuesThat was one of the conclusions contained within the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer document setting out some of the possible implications of leaving without a deal on October 31.

The document, finally released this week after MPs voted for its publication in Parliament, sets out a series of ‘reasonable worst case assumptions’ that include some worrying implications for the pig sector and wider agricultural community.

Export disruption

The document notes that France will impose new mandatory controls on goods on day one. “The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGV vehicles could reduce the flow rate to 4-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” the document states, adding that the worst disruption might last for three months, before flows improve to 50-70% of current levels.

Food shortages and price increases

Certain types of fresh food supply ‘will decrease’, as ‘critical dependencies’ for the food chain, such as key ingredients, chemicals and packaging ‘may be in shorter supply’.

The document stresses that this 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’.

It notes that this will be occurring in the run-up to Christmas, one of the busiest times of year for the food chain, adding that a risk of panic buying could exacerbate the shortages.

Veterinary medicines

“Any disruption to reduce, delay or stop supply of medicines to the UK would reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks, with potential detrimental effects for animal health and welfare and the environment and wider food safety/availability and zoonotic disease, which can directly impact human health,” the document says.

It adds that industry stockpiling will not be able to match the 4-12 weeks of stockpiling that took place ahead of the original March 31 Brexit deadline.

Irish border trade

“With the UK becoming a third country, the automatic application of EU tariffs and regulatory requirements for goods entering Ireland will severely disrupt trade,” the document says.

Higher costs could force some businesses to relocate or stop trading, with the agri-food sector the hardest hit, given its reliance on cross-border trade and the high tariffs that will be imposed. “Disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockages,” the document predicts.


Ministers sought to play down the document’s implications. Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove, who now has responsibility for no-deal planning, said ‘revised assumptions’ would be published ‘in due course alongside a document outlining the mitigations the government has put in place and intends to put in place’.

NPA view 

NPA senior policy Ed Barker said the document sets out in stark terms just some of the potential implications of an October 31 no deal exit.

“There is no doubt that this scenario would cause significant disruption within the pig sector, as it would across the whole of agriculture. We continue to highlight these impacts to politicians and civil servants and we urge them to ensure that everything possible is dome to minimise the impact. 

“We also urge members to do everything they can to prepare for the potential disruption,” he said.

The NPA is writing to Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers to outline the impact on the pig sector of the uneven tariffs regime that would apply in the event of a no deal and to demand a review of the low pork import tariff rates proposed.