Michael Gove triggers no-deal Brexit contingency plans

Peter Walker Political correspondent
Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

Michael Gove has triggered official contingency plans for no deal, as the government manoeuvred to try to pressure MPs into backing its Brexit deal by invoking the threat of the EU refusing to grant another departure extension.

Related: Labour could back Brexit bill if second referendum attached, says Starmer

Gove, whose cabinet role involves leading on no-deal preparations, said the government had begun the Operation Yellowhammer contingency plan, and that he would chair the no-deal cabinet sub-committee later on Sunday.

“The risk of leaving without a deal has actually increased because we cannot guarantee that the European council will grant an extension,” Gove told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.

The new Brexit deal is essentially the old Brexit deal with a new chapter on the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and a few key tweaks to the political declaration. Here is a link to the full text.

The backstop is replaced

The backstop has essentially been replaced by a full stop whereby Northern Ireland remains aligned to the EU from the end of the transition period for at least four years. A change can only happen if it is voted on by the Stormont assembly.


Stormont will have a key role in future Brexit arrangements. And if there is cross-community support to remain aligned to the EU rather than the UK the consent will hold for eight years.

The arrangements in this deal will automatically kick in for a mandated four years if there is a breakdown in trade talks, so it remains a “backstop” but with a permanent tinge.

That four-year period will start at the end of December 2020.

Two months before the end of the four-year period, that is October 2024, Stormont will be asked to vote on whether to remain aligned to the EU in ways outlined by this deal or not.

Checks on border, ports and airports

Under the deal, the UK and the EU are “underlining their firm commitment to no customs and regulatory checks or controls and related physical infrastructure at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland”.

Future trade deals

The EU and the UK will aim for a zero-tariff deal with unlimited quotas. The entire UK, including Northern Ireland, will be free to sign trade deals. The line in the political declaration that “the United Kingdom will consider aligning with union rules in relevant areas” in any future trade talks has been ditched.


Northern Ireland will remain legally in the UK customs territory but practically in the EU customs unions. There will therefore be no customs checks on the border but tariffs will be payable on certain commercial goods.

No customs duties will be payable on “personal property” being transited from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. That protects online shopping and all items bought for personal rather than commercial use.

Customs duties will be payable on goods imported from the UK for commercial use unless it can be demonstrated that the goods remain in Northern Ireland or are for personal use, as above.

A system of rebates will allow importers to be reimbursed.

West/east trade

The commitment to frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is restated.


EU law on VAT will apply in Northern Ireland.

Single electricity market

The island of Ireland is considering a single market for electricity so homes in Northern Ireland can get their energy from a supplier in Northern Ireland or the republic. There were fears this could be disrupted by Brexit. Under the Johnson deal, the provisions of union law remain so nothing will change.

Level playing field

This guarantees that the UK will remain in line with EU conventions on climate, environment and workers rights in a future trade agreement.

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

“And that is why, I will later today be chairing a cabinet committee meeting – extraordinarily, on a Sunday – in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for no deal is accelerated.

“It means that we are triggering Operation Yellowhammer. It means that we are preparing to ensure that if no extension is granted – and we cannot guarantee that an extension will be granted – that we have done everything possible in order to prepare to leave without a deal.”

There is no particular indication that the EU would refuse an extension if needed, and Gove’s comments seem primarily aimed at increasing pressure on MPs to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal after the Commons voted on Saturday to withhold immediate support until it can scrutinise the surrounding legislation.

This prompted a backbench-instigated law obliging the prime minister to send a letter to the EU seeking a delay beyond 31 October, which Johnson did – albeit accompanied by another letter arguing against this.

Gove insisted the UK would still definitely leave on 31 October, saying he had even made a bet with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, that it would happen.

“We are going to leave by 31 October,” he said. “We have the means and the ability to do so and people who – yesterday we had some people who voted for delay, voted explicitly to try to frustrate this process and to drag it out. I think actually the mood in the country is clear and the prime minister’s determination is absolute and I am with him in this: we must leave by 31 October.”

At the same time as threatening no deal, Gove lavished praise on former Conservative MPs such as Amber Rudd, the ex-work and pensions secretary, who quit the government and party last month in protest at Johnson’s seeming intent on no deal.

Rudd told the Ridge show earlier that she had backed the amendment on Saturday not to seek delay but as “an insurance policy”, to try to prevent hardline Brexit MPs forcing no deal at a later point in the process.

Related: EU will wait until MPs debate Brexit deal before extension decision

“I support the prime minister’s deal, and I have told him I will support it next week,” Rudd said. “I understand people’s fatigue – let me tell you, I suffer from it myself – but we have to make sure we don’t leave with no deal.”

Rudd said she expected most of the larger group of ex-Tory MPs who lost the party whip for rebelling over Brexit would also back the deal – even though, she said, it was a less good plan than that of Theresa May, and could well damage the economy.

Johnson’s plan was “less good” for the union in terms of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, Rudd said, saying she understood the reasons why the DUP did not back the plan.

Asked about its economic impact, Rudd said: “Our government’s own assessments are that it will hurt the economy, I think, by 4% to 6% a year. So it’s serious stuff. But I still think that it’s the right thing to do, because we had the referendum in 2016, and there’s other steps we can take to try and mitigate that.”