British diplomats across the European Union are preparing to take part in a government-wide no-deal Brexit rehearsal, BuzzFeed News has learned.
Diplomats have been told that the rehearsal, which is code-named "Exercise Yellow Rehearse", will be a live cross-Whitehall exercise involving all Foreign Office posts in Europe and government departments in London.
The exercise is the latest sign that a no-deal Brexit is seen as an increasingly likely scenario. Departing the EU without a deal would put significant strain on the UK’s diplomatic network, which would have to deal with an array of issues. This includes the status of British citizens across the EU and an abrupt end to UK participation in EU decision-making processes on key issues such as security, climate change, international development, and defence.
Planning for the exercise is being led by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union, a diplomatic source said. It is still underway, but it's currently scheduled to take place Oct. 8–9, just three weeks before Brexit day, the diplomat added.
The purpose of the exercise would be to try to manage some of the chaos that would be created if the UK were to crash out of the EU without a deal, the source said.
The diplomat described the possibility of a no-deal Brexit as now "very likely".
In response to questions about the exercise, a government spokesperson said: “We are making all necessary preparations to make sure we are ready to leave the EU by 31 October, whatever the circumstances. Government regularly conducts scenario-based exercises to ensure its plans are robust, including in relation to Brexit."
Over the weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that the UK would face shortages of fuel, food, and medicine, as well as a three-month meltdown at ports and a hard border with Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to the government's own contingency plans.
Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of no-deal preparations, described the study as a “worst-case scenario.”
Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that UK diplomats had been told to no longer attend EU coordination meetings and working groups.
A British diplomat told BuzzFeed News that the fact the government was now organising contingency plans for its EU diplomats was a sign that Boris Johnson's decision to prematurely pull out of EU decision-making processes had added further challenges to the UK’s preparedness.
Most diplomats and Foreign Office officials are despairing at how Brexit is being handled by the government, the source said.
The strange name is borrowed from the UK government’s no-deal contingency operation code-named “Operation Yellowhammer”. Sky News described a yellowhammer as an “at-risk bird” that has been undergoing “recent population decline”.
Johnson will head to Berlin and Paris later this week to meet with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.
A European diplomat told BuzzFeed News last week that Macron and Merkel will be hoping Johnson will come prepared with ideas on how he intends to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
This week's meetings are unlikely to lead to a breakthrough.
The UK prime minister has pledged to leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a Brexit deal. He is insisting that the EU removes the so-called backstop from the agreement that his predecessor, Theresa May, agreed with the other 27 EU leaders.
The backstop is an insurance policy that guarantees that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains open after Brexit in all circumstances and scenarios. The UK and the EU both committed to keeping the border open in December 2017.
The EU’s 27 remaining member states are adamant that any exit deal will require such an insurance policy, and that the key terms of the deal agreed by May cannot be renegotiated.