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Breaking down No Deal Brexit
Put it to the People march, March 2019Photography Carys Huws

What a No Deal Brexit could mean for Britain

As secret government documents are leaked, we outline what the prime minister’s ‘do or die’ strategy actually means for people living in the UK

Despite having just elected a buffoon as prime minister – and with the day the UK is set to leave the EU looming – the Tories are enjoying their undeserved summer holiday. Meanwhile, the rest of us are getting soaked in the August rain and wondering WTF is happening with Brexit.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times shared classified government documents – titled Operation Yellowhammer – that show the disastrous effects of a No Deal Brexit (although Michael Gove has asserted the report outlines a “worst-case scenario”). Following the leak, over 100 MPs signed a letter urging Boris Johnson to recall parliament “immediately” in order to scrutinise his Brexit plan and No Deal preparations.

The prime minister has frequently expressed his determination to leave the European Union on October 31, “do or die”. With no further deal announcements – and the fact that the EU has explicitly stated its refusal to renegotiate – it’s increasingly likely the UK will leave with No Deal, something that MPs, retailers, farmers, and more have warned against. However, with a Tory majority of zero, and Jeremy Corbyn calling for a general election (and backing a People’s Vote), there’s still a faint glimmer of hope.

In the meantime, we attempt to break down what a No Deal Brexit could mean for people living in the UK, focusing on effects most likely to have the biggest impact on Dazed readers. To see the full predicted outcomes of a No Deal Brexit, you can view the Yellowhammer document here.


The leaked Yellowhammer document confirms predictions that a No Deal Brexit will raise food prices, hitting the poorest hardest. Although there won’t be an overall shortage of food – except in the case of panic buying – crashing out of the EU will reduce availability and choice, particularly when it comes to fresh food. While the document doesn’t reference rationing, Whitehall sources told The Sunday Times that there are “planning assumptions around rations”. You can probably put the image of a WW2 ration book out of your mind though, as it seems more likely supermarkets would simply limit online shopping.


Three quarters of medicines come via the Channel crossings, so with No Deal likely resulting in severe disruptions, the leaked documents predict there will be a shortage of key medical supplies. Delays of up to six months are expected, meaning expiration dates wouldn’t make it possible for drugs to be stockpiled. Elderly people, those with diabetes, and cancer patients could be among the worst affected as temperature-controlled medicines – including insulin, flu vaccines, and new leukaemia treatments – wouldn’t survive the delays. 

Last week, the government announced an ‘express freight service’ which will help transport urgent drugs into the UK after Brexit. The Department of Health and Social Care revealed that the £25 million contract will enable medical supplies to be delivered within 24 hours, though a supplier hasn’t been appointed yet. An NHS source told The Sunday Times that in the case of a No Deal Brexit, when it comes to medicines “January and February will be dire”. 


Tighter border checks for UK citizens travelling to and from Europe will likely lead to delays at EU airports and ports, as well as at international stations like London St Pancras. At least you’ll have your lovely, ‘iconic’ blue passport to keep you company!


Theresa May’s Brexit deal failed to garner support from a number of MPs largely because of the Irish backstop – a temporary solution keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union until the UK and EU come to an alternative agreement. Many MPs rejected this proposal saying it would split up the UK. Although Johnson vowed to scrap the backstop, the newly leaked documents predict the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, not only potentially devastating Northern Ireland’s economy, but resulting in a return to violence in the country. 

The Yellowhammer report states the ‘no new checks with limited exceptions’ model will prove unsustainable, with EU tariffs severely disrupting trade. The document predicts businesses will either stop trading, or will relocate in order to avoid paying tariffs, with disruptions expected to lead to job losses. 

According to The Sunday Times, the prime minister is convinced the EU will renegotiate a deal with him in order to protect Ireland from No Deal fallout, with confidants reportedly telling the newspaper “Ireland is fucked” otherwise.


Although the Yellowhammer report doesn’t directly address No Deal Brexit’s impact on the economy – as with most things post-Brexit, it’s difficult to predict – economists have previously suggested that the risk of No Deal will push the UK back into recession, if it hasn’t already. The Bank of England has estimated that Brexit could shock the economy nearly as much as the 2008 global financial crisis, basically risking a severe economic downturn in which unemployment may rise and the value of the pound could plummet. Very cool!


Unsurprisingly, the document anticipates uprisings across the UK, with people expected to take to the streets in both protest and support following our exit from the EU. The report states there might be “a rise in public disorder and community tensions”, and The Sunday Times suggests the government could implement curfews, bans on travel, and confiscation of property as potential measures to reduce disruption.

The document’s prediction confirms 2018 reports that a shortage of goods combined with increased prices would lead to higher crime rates as well as “widespread protest which could then escalate into disorder”, potentially leading to military intervention post-Brexit. No Deal would undoubtedly exacerbate tensions in an already deeply divided UK, and with a lack of food and drugs, who knows what the country will descend into.