Brexit Readiness: Operation Yellowhammer

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 25th September 2019.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 3:31 pm, 25th September 2019

I welcome the shadow Brexit Secretary back from Brighton and to the House of Commons. One thing about the House of Commons is that, whether we lose or win votes, at least they are recorded accurately.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated on several occasions that he believed in constant updates. What a pity he did not update his list of questions in the light of the points that I made in my statement. What a pity he relied on a list that he had drafted many hours earlier.

On the first point, which was about negotiations, there have been detailed negotiations with the European Commission and EU member states. The Commission briefs the EU27 on those negotiations. As a result of those briefings and conversations, we have made the progress that I charted earlier. I hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been generous enough to acknowledge that the withdrawal agreement is now in play and the backstop can be replaced by alternative arrangements.

The shadow Brexit Secretary asked about business readiness. He said that he met some business organisations and they kept him up until 3 o’clock in the morning with a single message. I imagine that it was, “Whatever you do, please replace your leader.” [Interruption.] I will treat the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s comments with the seriousness they deserve. The automotive sector, which I met earlier this week, confirmed that it was ready. The retail sector has confirmed that it is ready. Ninety per cent. of the companies measured by value that trade with the EU also trade with countries outside the EU and they are in a position to be ready.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the Operation Yellowhammer document, but he seemed to miss the point that the National Audit Office appreciated earlier this year and that has entirely passed him by. Operation Yellowhammer is reasonable worst case scenario. The Government have taken and are taking steps to mitigate it and the XO Committee has authorised more than 300 actions since we started meeting in August to mitigate the consequences. We will update the House on all the steps that we have taken, many of which are listed in my statement and none of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about, from transitional simplified procedures to the application of EORI numbers. The shadow Brexit Secretary asked not a single question about all the things that business needs to get ready. His pretensions to speak for business are exposed as a hollow sham.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about clever and cunning plans. I suppose he was thinking about the Labour party’s position on Brexit. In February 2017, he said that

“politically the notion that the referendum was merely a consultation exercise…
holds no water…
we in…
Labour
have to accept the result. —[Official Report, 31 January 2017;
Vol. 620, c. 825.]

Now, in some sort of political equivalent of VAR, he wants to annul that result. Now Labour’s policy is to delay Brexit further, seek an extension of indefinite duration, renegotiate a new deal, then put it to the country in a new referendum, with the deputy leader saying, “Vote remain”, many Back Benchers saying, “Vote leave” and the Labour leader undecided. Labour’s position on Brexit is as solid as a blancmange in a hurricane and as coherent as an apology from Vicky Pollard.