The leaked Operation Yellowhammer document was an “old document”

Michael Gove to television cameras

August 17, 2019

Claim

Michael Gove made a second mendacious claim about the Yellowhammer document in the wake of The Sunday Times leak on 18 August. He said to television cameras that it was an “old document.” In an interview with the Today programme the following Tuesday, Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly said: “The reason it is out of date is because the government has enhanced its no deal planning.” He repeated the claim that morning to ITV’s Good Morning Britain and BBC Breakfast. “The fact that we’re having this conversation shows that people misunderstand the nature of that document,” he added to BBC Breakfast.

Facts

But mounting evidence soon revealed this claim to be false. The Sunday Times story on 18 August had stated that the document was marked as “compiled this month.” This assertion was soon vindicated. BBC economics correspondent Faisal Islam noted circumstantial evidence in the leaked information suggesting the document had been produced in late July or early August. He pointed out that the estimates for the impact on ferrying corresponded to a recent revised version of what had previously been predicted. (Islam emerges with immense credit from this investigation. This is not the only time he has exposed the government disinformation campaign.)

On the Monday after the leak, The Times reported an anonymous former minister saying the documents had been compiled at the beginning of August, making them just three weeks old. When Cleverly appeared on the Today programme on Tuesday morning, he twice declined to deny The Times report. Gove’s claim that Yellowhammer was an old document finally collapsed when the government published the Yellowhammer document in full. At the top of the document, beneath “HMG Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions,” were the words “As of 2 August 2019.”

Verdict

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, had been caught making a false statements about the effects of no deal. The date of 2 August meant the document had been produced for the Johnson, not the May, government. It had been presented to one of Johnson’s new cabinet Brexit committees chaired by Gove and was entirely relevant and up-to-date. Once again, Cleverly was drawn into repeating a false statement by Gove.

I sent a detailed email to the Cabinet Office setting out Gove’s falsehoods and adding that I would assert “that Michael Gove repeatedly lied to and misled the media, and through the media the British people, about the status of the Yellowhammer document.” A press officer would not answer my questions but told me that she had passed them on to his political staff. I am still awaiting their explanation of what happened.

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