Hospitals are stockpiling medicine, troops are on standby and people are stashing food as quiet prep for a Christmas nightmare begins.

They're famed for keeping calm and carrying on but some Britons are starting to freak out and stockpile beans as odds harden on a no deal Brexit.

Preparations for a no deal — where Britain leaves the EU at 11pm October 31 without an agreement — have been "turbo charged" since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

The Brexiteer has warned the UK will leave the EU "do or die" on Halloween and ramped up planning across a range of government departments with less than 90 days to go.


This week, the UK Treasury announced an extra $3.9 billion would be spent on preparations including upgrading port infrastructure and hiring border force officers. That's in addition to $7.4 billion already allocated.

Meanwhile a leaked government document marked "official sensitive" warned of potential "consumer panic" and "security gaps" within weeks. The Bank of England claims there is a one in three chance Britain could enter recession next year, even if no deal is avoided.

What will happen at airports and ports remains to be seen but the UK government has hired more staff to deal with the workload. Photo / Getty Images
What will happen at airports and ports remains to be seen but the UK government has hired more staff to deal with the workload. Photo / Getty Images


The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned this week "no one is ready for no deal" with 24 out of 27 key sectors of the economy set to undergo disruption that will "ripple on for years".

It claimed border queues are "inevitable" with shortages of food, medicine and manufacturing parts likely to take place as the intricate "just in time" supply chains grind to a halt.

Companies have spent eye-watering sums on preparations including stockpiling and moving staff to European cities. Car maker Aston Martin has spent $55 million on Brexit prep, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has dropped $148 million while GlaxoSmithKline has spent $130 million, the CBI reports.

Big banks have spent even more, with Barclays reportedly investing up to $371 million while Bank of America has spent more than $557 million to offset the impact of a no deal.

Earlier this year the UK Treasury developed Operation Yellowhammer to prepare for disruption in 12 key areas including food and water supplies, healthcare, transport and borders ahead of the original Brexit deadline of March 29.


The plan is based on worst-case scenarios that could see increased immigration checks, reduction of food choice, increased prices and a breakdown of law and order. It includes arrangements for the Ministry of Defence to make 3500 troops available for deployment and loan top military planners to government departments.

The government has published more than 100 technical notices covering everything from how copyright issues to consumer rights would work under a no deal. It has also passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 into law which will essentially "copy and paste" EU law into Britain to provide legal certainty for when Brexit takes place.


But despite significant efforts, a no deal Brexit is set to disrupt the intricately woven systems the UK and EU have built up over the last forty years, based on the seamless movement of everything from tulips to chocolate.

The CBI has warned no deal will lead to price hikes and create massive delays at ports and airports if customs checks are needed for people and goods that can currently flow in and out of the UK unhindered.

Research shows spending an extra two minutes checking every vehicle at the border could triple queues on British motorways to more than 46 kilometres. While more staff have been hired, land requisitioned and alternative entry points brought on line, there is the extra effort in keeping food, medicines, meat and chemicals fresh while waiting to consider.

One haulage firm told the CBI a day's delay could add $743 in refrigeration costs alone — something that would be borne by customers.

Plans are already in place to prioritise medicine crossing the border — some 80 million packs each month. Manufacturers are working around the clock to stockpile goods while the Welsh NHS has hired warehouses in secret locations stocked with 22,000 tonnes of essentials.

"It's everything from medical items — syringes, dressing, needles, cleaning materials, through to toilet rolls — the sort of thing the NHS relies on day in day out to operate," Mark Roscrow of NHS Wales said in April.

Food and drink supplies are set to face "costly and damaging" changes from "day one" with everything from crabmeat to pork and vet food potentially having to undergo additional testing, the CBI warned.

Around 30 per cent of UK food comes from the EU and supermarket bosses have already warned it could be a lean Christmas with higher prices and shortages on the shelves.

Sainsbury's boss Mike Couple said: "A no-deal scenario would be very disruptive to us, and I think the timing of it means it would be potentially disruptive to people's Christmases."

Asda chief executive Roger Burnley said fresh food could be "sitting in ports rotting" in the event of border checks and "if you're choosing a time for a dramatic change [to the rules], you wouldn't be choosing October, for sure."

Entry to and from the UK is expected to be significantly more difficult after Brexit if border checks for goods are in place. Photo / News Corp Australia
Entry to and from the UK is expected to be significantly more difficult after Brexit if border checks for goods are in place. Photo / News Corp Australia

UK Warehousing Association CEO Peter Ward told there is huge demand for warehousing facilities and large companies have been stockpiling "across the board" in everything from ambient food to car parts.

"It really couldn't come at a worse time. This is peak season. This is where capacity is already stretched in the run up to Christmas, Black Friday and cyber Monday," he said.

With the pound at a two-year low, companies are also facing a "brexodus" of the Eastern European staff they rely on to work as the weak currency wipes out the advantage of working in Britain.

"We have a huge reliance on imported labour and that is going to hurt … so start thinking you might not be getting your Amazon delivery the next morning or within the hour because this is going to have an impact on the distribution," he said.

Exporters are also watching the prospect of no deal with alarm. Australian Grape and Wine CEO Tony Battaglene said a hard Brexit is now viewed as "most likely". While the industry has signed a deal with the UK government to keep existing labelling in place, "re-exporting" Australian wine from the UK to the EU will "clearly become more difficult" with some producers looking at bypassing the UK altogether.

"I think willingness of EU to play nicely will be limited in [the event of a no deal] so that causes concern," he said.

Meanwhile normally lackadaisical Londoners have taken to stockpiling household essentials including baby formula and pet food at home. Parenting forums are filled with reports of people stocking up on medicines, toilet paper, long life milk and fruit and vegetable seeds, or droll plans like "I'm planning on eating my neighbours. They're old".

One tongue-in-cheek Brexit prepping website provides grocery packages that range from "I'm a little concerned" which is enough to survive one week, to "I'm properly panicking" and is enough to survive three months.

Brexiteers insist the UK has a bright future outside the EU and dismiss reports of the economic impact as "project fear".

Mr Johnson rubbished the "doubters, doomsters and gloomsters" in his first speech outside Number 10 and said those who bet against Britain are going to "lose their shirts". He insists he prefers to do a deal with the EU but the Irish backstop must be abolished — something the EU has rejected outright.

New Australian Liberal MP James Stevens said this week he welcomed the ability for the UK to trade without it being in "Europe's nasty choke-hold".

Yet other UK leaders fear the impact a disruptive Brexit could have. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said this week he could envisage civil unrest in the Welsh countryside if farmers lose a "whole way of life that has existed for centuries".

Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Irish backstop must go if the UK is to do a deal with the EU. Photo / AP
Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Irish backstop must go if the UK is to do a deal with the EU. Photo / AP

"The prime minister needs to think about the future of the United Kingdom in genuinely serious way. Just a few more choruses of Rule Britannia and an extra supply of union jacks is not going to cut it," he said.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also wants a second referendum on Scottish independence and slammed Mr Johnson's government as "dangerous" in Edinburgh this week.

"Behind all of The Bluff and bluster, this is a government that is dangerous. The path that it is pursuing is a dangerous one, for Scotland but for all of the UK," she said.