Sajid Javid has refused to rule out the possibility that a no-deal Brexit could cause a sharp rise in crime and widespread protests escalating into weeks of civil disorder, saying it was important that police prepare for any such eventualities.
Contingency plans for a no-deal departure drawn up by the National Police Coordination Centre say shortages of medicine could “feed civil disorder”, while more general price rises could prompt “widespread protest which could then escalate into disorder”.
The document, leaked to the Sunday Times, cautions that there could an increase in crime, notably theft and robbery, amid shortages of food and drugs, as well as the “expectation that more people will become ill”.
It says the primary concern would be a shortage of food, medicines and other goods leading to “civil disorder leading to widespread unrest”. This could last for up to three months either side of the departure date next March, the report says, raising the “real possibility” that soldiers would have to be deployed on the streets, even with police leave postponed.
Part of the report says: “There is an expectation that crime not directly connected to Brexit will rise, as acquisitive crime will habitually rise in the event of restricted availability of goods.”
Asked about the warning, Javid told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I’m glad the police and other experts are looking into this and thinking what might happen in a no-deal scenario. I don’t expect a no-deal outcome but we need to prepare for all contingencies and it’s absolutely correct.
“And that’s what we’ve been doing across government, including my own department, so of course that means working closely with police. I’m not going to get into what the situation may or may not be, but I think it’s fair to say we’re preparing for all contingencies.”
Asked several times whether this response meant the scenario outlined in the police report could happen, Javid declined to reject the possibility, saying only that the public should be reassured that the government was planning to mitigate problems.
He said: “This is an unprecedented situation, but most important of all we need to keep focused on the deal and get a deal delivered, but at the same time of course every government department should prepare for all possible outcomes.”
Asked again if disorder could break out, Javid said: “I don’t think people need to worry. The reason people don’t need to worry is because the government is looking, rightly, at what could be the possible outcomes in a no-deal situation, and then preparing for that and trying to mitigate that. And that’s why the police and others have been asked to do this kind of analysis.”
Other possible impacts of a no-deal Brexit cited in the police report include mass queueing systems for lorries imposed at every UK port and “unprecedented and overwhelming” disruption on the roads.
Another effect could be the inability of EU nationals to continue working as police, which would deprive the Metropolitan police alone of 750 officers.
Asked by Marr about the numbers of people wrongly detained or deported as a result of the Windrush scandal, Javid confirmed that around 164 people had been affected by this. Of these, 18 had been identified as the most severe cases, three of whom had died, he said.
Of the 164 cases, about half took place under a Labour government, Javid said, adding that the Labour party should also apologise.
Javid accepted there were many more people who had been affected in other ways, such as being denied jobs or NHS treatment. “It’s right that in any case where people have been wrongly affected that we need to help them,” he said. “I don’t think we know exactly how many yet, and I wouldn’t even want to guess what that is, because we’re still trying to put that information together. But it’s right that we get to the bottom of that.”