NOEL KING, HOST:
Imagine shortages of food and fuel and medicine, ports in a state of gridlock. That is some of what could happen to the United Kingdom if it leaves the European Union with no deal at the end of October. This assessment comes from a dossier on Operation Yellowhammer - that's a secret government contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit which was leaked and reported by The Times of London over the weekend - and it concerns people because the UK's new prime minister, Boris Johnson, seems to be steering the country toward just that, toward crashing out of the EU.
NPR's Frank Langfitt is following this from London. Hey, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Noel.
KING: So some really grim predictions here. What else did this dossier say?
LANGFITT: Yeah, I mean, some of the facts and figures were really interesting. Trucks could face two-and-a-half-day delays at ports, could be significant disruption lasting up to three months and could see a disruption in the fuel supply to London and southeast of England. And medical supplies, also severe delays because most of them would come over the English Channel.
And the big thing is a government expects a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, and the dossier says that could spark protests and roadblocks.
KING: Well, what does the document say would happen if there was a hard border? Because this has been one of the big worries, right, yeah?
LANGFITT: Exactly, and nobody really talked about this three years ago during the referendum debate - a return to widespread customs checks. And, you know, right now, the border is invisible. It's seamless trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. And if you have new customs check, not only is it going to cost companies and damage the economies on either side, but more importantly, it's going to make people along the border really, really angry because nobody wants this.
The border is - people would remember - this was the site of a lot of violence during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Thirty-six hundred people or more died during those battles in the '70s and the '80s. And there's a genuine fear, I think, that if customs posts go up, that dissident Irish republicans, they're going to see this as dividing Ireland again. And they want to see the island unified, and so they could start shooting up the customs post.
KING: Oh, my God. All right, so this...
LANGFITT: Yeah, this is...
KING: This is a lot.
LANGFITT: ...I've been studying this - yeah, I have been going up there now for three years, and people have been talking about this for this entire time.
KING: So what are people saying about all this? Are they freaking out?
LANGFITT: I would say, you know, this has been going on for three years, so - in terms of Brexit. But what we're seeing, I think, is more stockpiling. There's research that shows that more than $4 billion has already been spent on food, medicine and drink, kind of stockpiling for a possible no-deal Brexit in October. My wife Julie is at Costco this morning. She's, you know, lots of people are doing this.
About a hundred members of Parliament want to recall Parliament. They want to - earlier during the summer recess. They'd like to get them back very soon to be able to talk to Johnson - Boris Johnson - about Brexit preparations. Michael Gove, he's in charge of preparations, and he said well, this - you know, people shouldn't overreact. The dossier is a worst-case scenario, and it's an old document, and the new government's made a lot of progress in the last few weeks. But I don't think there's - we're not seeing any evidence of that. And it seems far-fetched that they would have made big, big gains, you know, big changes.
And, you know, the other thing is that even if one of these things happened, Noel, people would be really upset...
LANGFITT: ...Because as many point out, nobody was talking about this kind of disruption when they voted in 2016 on the referendum.
KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel.
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