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Gove tells Covid inquiry no-deal Brexit planning prepared UK for ‘any’ crisis

The levelling up secretary defended the government's decision to focus on no-deal Brexit over a potential pandemic

James Harrison
13 July 2023, 4.33pm

Appearing at the Covid inquiry, Michael Gove defended the decision to focus on no-deal Brexit planning over a potential pandemic


Leon Neal/Getty Images

No-deal Brexit planning was among the best preparation for “any future crisis” facing the UK, according to Michael Gove.

The government has frequently been forced to defend its decision to focus resources on crashing out of the EU over preparations for a potential pandemic.

Now the levelling up secretary has insisted the exercise, known as Operation Yellowhammer, had armed ministers and civil servants with the tools to tackle “any future crisis”.

“I think that the preparation for EU exit in and of itself was some of the best preparation that could have been undergone for any future crisis,” the Surrey Heath MP told the UK’s official Covid inquiry today.

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“It is the acquisition of general skills in crisis management that is among the most useful ways of ensuring that we have pandemic preparedness.

“Of course, it is possible that had a particular meeting or had a particular work stream been taken forward, then we might have identified something that could have strengthened our ability to weather the pandemic.

“But nowhere have I seen, outside one or two scholarly articles, anyone suggesting that government should be orienting its work towards the particular type of pandemic that Covid was to become.”

Last week, the inquiry heard Brexit preparations had forced Northern Ireland to “cannibalise” departments in the run up to the pandemic.

Evidence from Scottish officials last month also blamed no-deal planning for hampering pandemic readiness.

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Pete Weatherby KC, representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, asked Gove, a cabinet minister as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster over the course of the pandemic, whether Operation Yellowhammer had been a “rehearsal which gave people experience”.

Gove agreed, adding: “I think that preparation for any significant challenge of that kind will stress test systems and will expose some weaknesses within those systems.”

He also referenced tensions between Westminster departments, claiming they can be “jealous of their own turf” and can need “heads knocked together” to make progress on significant issues.

Addressing the government’s decision to put the UK into lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, Gove conceded the “behavioural science consensus” used to justify the measure had turned out to be “less accurate about the durability and the willingness of the public to accept restrictions”.

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