“A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. ….. you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA 2004) provides the Government with powers to create emergency regulations to deal with emergencies that threaten “serious damage to human welfare”, or that threaten damage to the environment or the security of the UK.
Damage to human welfare is defined in the Act to include disruption to transport networks or to the supply of food, money, energy, or health services.
The monarch or a senior Minister of the Crown has the power to make emergency regulations, under certain circumstances, to deal with the most serious emergencies.
In practice, such regulations are drafted and their substance determined by the Government.
The powers are wide-ranging, providing the Government with the power to make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament or through the use of the royal prerogative. The regulations must be laid before Parliament as soon as is practicable, and they would lapse after seven days if not approved by both Houses of Parliament.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in response to a perceived need to update the UK’s civil resilience profile to address issues not covered by the Emergency Powers Act 1920, such as terrorist threats and disruption to modern technology and communication infrastructure.
In 2013, guidance on the CCA 2004 published by the Cabinet Office set out background to using part 2 of the Act. It stated that the use of emergency powers was a “last resort” only to be used in “exceptional circumstances”
Are you worried yet?
Yellowhammer: “often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Its recent population decline make it a Red List species.” RSPB
The Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) does the planning. For a no deal Brexit the codename for the Civil Contingency planning is Yellowhammer.
In January 2019, it was reported that the Government was considering the use of martial law to deal with potential civil disobedience in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
The CCS’ budget in 2018/19 was £16.9 million and in January 2019 it had a staff headcount of 94.
Limited information on Operation Yellowhammer has been officially released into the public domain. In January 2019, responding to a parliamentary question on which units from the armed forces may be made available for Operation Yellowhammer, Mark Lancaster, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, stated:
The Ministry of Defence is in the process of identifying the most appropriate forces to use for Operation Yellowhammer. At this stage it is not possible to give a breakdown by service. We continue to work closely with other government departments to refine the support package.
It was reported in December 2018 that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat had invited all MPs who were members of the Privy Council to a briefing on the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The Oath of the Privy Counsellor
You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto The Queen’s Majesty as one of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Her Majesty’s Person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors you will not reveal it unto him but will keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance to the Queen’s Majesty; and will assist and defend all civil and temporal Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. SO HELP YOU GOD
Potential Scope of Emergency Powers
- amend primary legislation (with some exceptions)
- confer powers on Ministers of the Crown
- confiscate property (with or without compensation)
- prohibit or require the movement of people to or from specified places
- prohibit assemblies of certain kinds
- create offences of failing to comply with the regulations
Apart from the bonnie bird, the nod to Douglas Adams and the Oath taken by Privy Counsellors, all this information comes from an official Library Briefing to the House of Lords.
“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. “ Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks For All The Fish.
Compiled by Fiona Grahame