Secret plan to manage impact of no-deal Brexit on Devon

PUBLISHED: 11:00 11 December 2019

Union and European Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA.

Union and European Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

A secret plan, held by the police, lays out the risks to East Devon following Brexit - and the actions that would be taken in the event of circumstances including shortages of food and medicines.

East Devon District Council leader Ben Ingham has said the document should be withheld from the public in the current circumstances but should be made public if a no-deal Brexit is a possibility in a second referendum.

The 'local risk register' was referenced in a report to the district cabinet in October, which said it 'sets out our broad areas of concern, and the actions we are taking to manage those'. However, it has emerged that not even all the cabinet members know what is in the plan.

On behalf of the counties' 'local resilience forum', the document is held by Devon and Cornwall Police, which has refused to release it following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

A spokesman said the document known as the Local Resilience Forum No Deal Brexit, Common Operating Picture is deemed exempt from publication for reasons of national security, international relations, law enforcement, and health and safety.

Cllr Ingham told this newspaper that not even all cabinet members know what is in the document. In the event of issues arising from Brexit, a designated council officer will contact the resilience forum to be appraised of the appropriate response.

The council leader said to release the document now could 'alarm people' but that the local authorities for the region have a coherent plan for emergencies.

He declined to provide a list of risks for East Devon but said: "Common sense would tell you that top of our priorities has to be food, doesn't it, so if we remain in the EU there's zero risk.

"If we exit with a deal there could be a temporary risk or inconvenience while that's addressed. If we exit with no deal you could potentially have high-risk for food supply, couldn't you?

"That makes sense - or medicines, you know?"

He said it would be 'only fit' that the risks should be made public if a no-deal Brexit was a possibility in a referendum. Publishing before then, he said, would be alarmist.

"The last fuel strikes - people overreact and go up to the petrol stations and buy everything and then there is a fuel shortage before the fuel shortage," he said. "And we don't need that happening at the moment. There's no reason to panic because we are still months away and it's one of the responsibilities of any local government, as well as national, to promote social cohesion and to avoid alarmism, when it's unnecessary."

Responding to a request for the document, a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police wrote: "To disclose information concerning preparation/associated risks in a no-deal Brexit would hinder the forces ability to effectively resolve any potential issues and could raise real concern over the stability of a community or the country."

The spokesman went on to write that releasing the document would - in the context of the current 'substantial' terrorism threat level - 'provide those intent on committing criminal or terrorist acts with valuable information as to where the police believe civil unrest may and may not occur'.

Furthermore, said the spokesman, release of the document would 'hinder [the] country's ability to protect and promote UK interests through international relations'.

The spokesman wrote: "As detailed above, it is known that Brexit is of high importance to the public and any outcome will have an impact on the communities we serve.

"Sharing our plans should a no-deal Brexit occur would help build community relations with the force but I believe this would not outweigh the potential harm it could do to our community and businesses, international relations and our ability to effectively enforce the law.

"Therefore the balance lies in favour of a non-disclosure at this time."

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