It is “more important than ever” that Parliament is recalled after the government published an assessment of the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit, Labour has said.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Yellowhammer document confirms there are “severe risks” if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
MPs forced the release of the file before Parliament was suspended.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the government was mitigating the risks.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the planning document only showed what might happen “if the government didn’t do anything about it”.
But he added “lots of measures” were being taken to reduce risks.
Sir Keir said recalling Parliament would allow MPs “the opportunity to scrutinise these documents and take all steps necessary to stop no deal”.
His comments followed a ruling by Scotland’s highest civil court on Wednesday that the government’s proroguing of Parliament was unlawful.
The Yellowhammer file, which is redacted in parts and almost identical to a version leaked to the Sunday Times last month, was released on Wednesday. It says in a reasonable worst-case scenario a no-deal Brexit could lead to:
- a “decrease” in certain types of fresh food and “shorter supply” of key ingredients
- price rises for food and fuel, which would “disproportionately” affect those with low incomes
- “disruption lasting up to six months” potentially affecting medicines and medical supplies
- protests and counter-protests across the UK
- lorries waiting for more than two days to cross the English Channel
The document also says some businesses could cease trading, the black market could grow, and some adult social care providers might fail.
On the Northern Ireland border, the report says the current plans for “no new checks with limited exceptions” are “likely to prove unsustainable due to a significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks”.
But former PM Gordon Brown said the government was “still not telling the truth” about the “sheer scale” of the possible effects of no deal.
“The worst-case scenario document downplays the risks to medical supplies, the threat to household budgets and the damage inflicted on the most vulnerable,” he said.
Last week, MPs passed a bill by 327 votes to 299 that forces the PM to ask for an extension beyond the 31 October Brexit deadline if a deal is not reached with the EU.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would rather “die in a ditch” than request an extension, and at present the UK is still due to leave the EU on Halloween.
Michael Gove, the cabinet minister with responsibility for no-deal planning, told the BBC the government had taken “considerable steps” to ensure the safest possible departure after a no-deal Brexit in the six weeks since 2 August, the date that appears on the document.
On Wednesday, he said “revised assumptions” would be published “in due course alongside a document outlining the mitigations the government has put in place and intends to put in place”.
The bill also required the release of communications between No 10 aides about Parliament’s suspension but ministers have refused to do this.
Mr Gove said MPs’ request to see e-mails, texts and WhatsApp messages from Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief aide, and eight other advisers in Downing Street were “unreasonable and disproportionate”.
Publishing the information, he added, would “contravene the law” and “offend against basic principles of fairness”.
However, former justice secretary David Gauke told BBC Radio 5 Live the messages “should be handed over”.
He added: “I understand the concerns about private advice but on this particular issue… this is work-related information to get to the bottom of why Parliament was prorogued.”
Concern about medicines is understandable. Every month more than 30 million packs of medicines arrive from the EU. Supply chains are considered particularly vulnerable to disruption at the Channel ports – the Yellowhammer document itself acknowledges this.
The government has put out contracts for warehouse space and fridges to stockpile supplies. But there are some medicines that cannot be stored, like radioisotopes used for cancer treatment. Flu vaccines will also need to be imported – the winter vaccination programme will be well under way by 31 October.
There are plans in place to fly in emergency supplies if shortages of crucial products arise. But fears remain.
However, it is not just about medicines. Hospitals feed about 120,000 patients a day – any disruption to the food chain could impact on them.
And then there is social care. The Yellowhammer document warns that inflation could cause social care providers to go under – the market is already fragile. In this situation it is the responsibility of councils to step and find new care homes for residents affected or new providers to care for people in their own homes.
The document also warns of potential clashes if foreign fishing vessels enter British territorial waters on the day after the UK’s departure and says economic difficulties could be “exacerbated” by flooding or a flu pandemic this winter.
BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said some of the scenarios outlined were “stark”, but ministers were insisting the paper was not a prediction about what will happen.
The document, which, until now, was categorised as “official, sensitive”, is not an official cabinet paper. It dates from 10 days after Mr Johnson became PM.
Retailers said the document confirmed what they have been saying will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“Fresh food availability will decrease, consumer choice will decrease, and prices will rise,” Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium said.
And the British Medical Association described the Yellowhammer file as “alarming” and that it confirmed its warnings about no-deal, including the threat of medical supply shortages.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told BBC Breakfast: “This is more like emergency planning for war or a natural disaster and we’re doing this voluntarily.”
This is not an “old” Yellowhammer assessment, as was claimed by the government in August.
It is from the latest internal no-deal planning, from August, from well within the time of Boris Johnson’s administration.
The government hopes that its recent efforts will change some of the most concerning aspects of what is titled a “reasonable worst case assumptions” document, but they are yet to be able to make those changes.
Everything hinges on the core assumption made about disruption to freight traffic across the Channel – that over half would be stuck for up to two-and-a-half days.
Those assumptions on trade flow have improved recently, but are still poor, and enough to have several highly concerning consequences, from fresh food supply, to stability in Northern Ireland, to social care providers and supplies of medicines for people and animals.
I have also been assured that a widely circulated version of this document, from the same day, had the phrase “base scenario”.
It is somewhat confusing that there can be a base case of a worst case planning assumption.
In any event, these are the real, plausible short-term shocks from a no-deal Brexit.
The section on Northern Ireland is particularly concerning. In many respects it is incredible to have such a list of the plausible consequences of what is government policy.
It is not difficult to see why the government resisted its release. It is unlikely to improve the mood of an already sceptical Commons.
But it is really the first tangible, quotable, warts and all assessment of what Whitehall fears could be around the corner.
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