EXCLUSIVE: No-deal Brexit planning would 'overwhelm' emergency response

By Dan Peters | 19 May 2020

Planning for a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year would ‘overwhelm’ the country’s emergency response capacity, the Government has been warned in a leaked report.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aides have repeatedly made clear that they will not seek an extension to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

But the first national review to capture the UK’s response to coronavirus has now warned that failing to seek an extension threatened to ‘compound COVID-19 with a second UK societal-wide, economic and social, chronic threat’.

The warning is contained in a 76-page report by the C-19 National Foresight Group, a cross-government team supporting local resilience forums (LRF).

It comes after The MJ revealed last week a shorter summary of the same review by the C-19 group, which found the response to coronavirus had been hampered by central government excluding local partners from key intelligence and failing to share enough information.

According to the longer document, contributors to the review warned that having to prepare for a no-deal Brexit could lead to ‘LRF burnout’.

The review read: ‘If the transition period was not extended then the LRFs would have to plan for a no-deal situation and this would be overwhelming for the structures.

‘The realistic capability and capacity to deliver Brexit was discussed and the continuation of a no-deal Brexit was strongly advised against due to the risk to staff wellbeing and health.’

One contributor said: ‘We are currently in an unprecedented national emergency that will have health, economic, social and political impacts for years to come. The responder community is exhausted – floods, Novichok, terrorism, Brexit preparations etc. The last thing we need is a no-deal Brexit.

‘If we are to do recovery properly we do not have the space to start scaling-up a Brexit response too. This needs to be fed into HM Government thinking now. This isn’t pro/anti-Brexit – it is about being sensible for the recovery process and the health and wellbeing of our responders.’

More generally, respondents raised the risk of being unprepared if another emergency happened while they were still dealing with the current pandemic.

One respondent warned: ‘A concurrent emergency of any nature would overwhelm resources, albeit I have no doubt we would endeavour to continue delivering, but at what cost?’

Another said that what we had learned from emergency situations like Salisbury is that recovery will fall mostly to local authorities and will take a long time.

They continued: ‘National support for recover and a bung of cash is the only option really, or all local authority emergency planning will be sucked into recovery, and there will be no capacity for planning for other issues, or supporting any other response.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We have worked closely with LRFs and local government to ensure a smooth [Brexit] transition, and we are well prepared to support them as we look towards the end of the transition period.’

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