No-deal Brexit: everything you need to know

No-deal Brexit: everything you need to know
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This article originally published in February 2019 has been updated to take account of new developments.

By law, the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union at the end of the Article 50 process with or without a divorce agreement, in the absence of an alternative arrangement. After three extensions, the scheduled departure date is now January 31, 2020.

A UK departure from the EU with no deal on the exit terms would hit trade and many other aspects of everyday life. Existing legal arrangements would abruptly cease to apply.

Preparations for a no-deal scenario have been stepped up – as have warnings of damaging consequences to the economy and for future UK-EU relations. These have often been dismissed as scare stories by some Brexit supporters.

Euronews has examined in detail how the rules would change under no-deal, and how this might affect the UK and the EU. Articles are clickable in the sections below.


No-deal Brexit: what would 'WTO terms' mean for UK-EU trade?

If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, it will immediately leave the customs union and the single market and will trade under World Trade Organisation terms. Our explainer looks at the potential impact of WTO rules and warnings of disruption to the economy on both sides of the English Channel.

Citizens’ rights

What would a no-deal Brexit mean for citizens' rights?

We examine how EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals on the continent would be affected by a no-deal Brexit.

Travel and consumer issues

How would a no-deal Brexit affect travel and consumers?

What no-deal would mean for travellers and consumers, covering issues such as passports and visas, health cover, driving, roaming charges, and cross-border legal cases.

The Irish border

Ireland insists the new EU-UK land border will remain open even under no deal, though the EU will want to protect its single market and customs union. The government in Dublin will need to decide how to reconcile its obligations to the EU with its pledge not to introduce a hard border.

Northern Ireland conflict 50 years on: will a no-deal Brexit threaten the peace?

Our overall Brexit Guide explains the controversial backstop plan in the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, while another backstop explainer considers Boris Johnson's opposition to it. Other explainers look at the historical context, and possible technological solutions and other alternative arrangements for the border.

Other areas

The European Commission’s Contingency Action Plan for Brexit lays out basic plans in a no-deal scenario to regulate citizens’ rights, financial services, air transport, road haulage, customs and exports, and climate policy.

It does not cover issues such as cooperation on security, crime and terrorism. However, a British government paper published when Theresa May was in office makes it clear that the UK would no longer have a formal relationship with Europol, and would no longer be part of existing systems on data-sharing, extradition, and co-operating to fight money-laundering and terrorist financing. The UK's then security minister warned that both sides would be put at greater risk.

In aviation, aerospace companies have warned that the Johnson's government's plans to diverge from EU rules will bring increased cost and complexity. The government says it aims to pursue additional agreements.

For scientific research, the British government has guaranteed funding for UK competitive bids for EU projects submitted before Brexit. But there is uncertainty over future partnerships beyond Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme, when it ends next year. The government says it wants talks with the EU to ensure the UK can continue taking part in programmes as a third country.

Preparations and warnings over a no-deal Brexit

Preparations for a no-deal scenario have been stepped up – as have warnings of damaging consequences to the economy and for future UK-EU relations. These have often been dismissed as scare stories by some Brexit supporters.

In October 2019 Boris Johnson's government published a No-Deal Readiness Report, giving an optimistic assessment of the country's preparations for leaving the EU without an agreement.

This was far more upbeat than government documents published in September. Codenamed "Operation Yellowhammer", it contained warnings of possible food, medicine and fuel shortages in a "worst case" scenario.

The May government published a series of papers giving advice to British citizens and businesses on the consequences of no-deal and how to prepare. It confirms that there would be no agreement on applying arrangements set out in the exit deal.

In August 2019, after the Bank of England lowered its growth forecast for the UK post-Brexit, its governor Mark Carney warned that in the event of no deal the economy would suffer an instant hit, prices would rise and the pound would fall, and even large profitable industries would become "uneconomic".

In April 2019 a leaked letter by the government's most senior civil servant warned of an economic recession, food price rises, a severe impact on Britain's security services, police forces and legal system, and a return to direct rule by the UK government in Northern Ireland.

In June, the same civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill, said government and public services were in "pretty good shape" to cope with a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. He added that in the private sector the level of preparedness varied from sector to sector.

According to various reports in June – based on a leaked Cabinet document, the Institute for Government and other assessments – the UK was far from prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

In its June update on the state of contingency preparations across the EU, the European Commission concluded that they remained "adequate and fit for purpose".

In July the British employers' organisation the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) argued otherwise, its report saying that neither the UK nor the EU was ready for no deal.

The UK Institute for Government has assessed various EU countries' preparations for no deal. A later report by the institute warned that a no-deal Brexit would drain resources and dominate UK government business for years to come.

How likely is a no-deal Brexit?

Upon taking office, Boris Johnson immediately signalled his new government's determination to pull the UK out of the EU in the autumn, with or without a deal.

The UK's new prime minister surprised many by striking a revised withdrawal deal with the EU. But he was obliged by law to seek another Brexit delay after missing the deadline set by parliament for an agreement to be approved.

The extension was granted, but although a no-deal Brexit was avoided at the end of October, it remains the default option in the absence of a ratified deal at the end of January.

The UK is due to hold a general election on December 12. If Johnson's Conservatives win an outright parliamentary majority, they should be well placed to pass the prime minister's Brexit deal into law, paving the way for an orderly withdrawal from the EU.

But victory for the Labour opposition, or a hung parliament where no party has an overall majority, would make the immediate future much more uncertain. Labour wants to renegotiate a new deal which it would put to another referendum.

The EU is very keen to avoid a no-deal Brexit. But in Europe there has been growing reluctance to let the UK's Brexit paralysis drag on indefinitely, and another extension to the process would not be guaranteed. The European Council has already granted the UK a delay three times amid ongoing turmoil in the British parliament.

Like Theresa May's deal, Johnson's revised agreement – negotiated by London and Brussels and approved by the 27 other EU governments – paves the way for existing arrangements to continue during a transition period. However, these will not apply if a deal is not ratified by the British and European parliaments.

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