No-deal Brexit explained in 500 words: What may happen and when?

If the UK and the EU cannot agree on a deal by December 31, the pair will default to WTO rules – an expensive trade scenario, especially for Britain.

London skyline economy [Bloomberg]
A no-deal Brexit would mean the trading relationship between the pair would become more expensive and bureaucratic for both [File: Jason Alden/Bloomberg]

The United Kingdom and the European Union are holding last-minute negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal.

If they fail to strike an agreement, they face a messy divorce.

There are fewer than four weeks until the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31, when the current transition period will end.

There is continued division over three key issues – fishing rights, competition rules and the governance of any deal.

With talks on a knife-edge, the next 48 hours have been described as crucial.

So what would a no-deal Brexit look like?

A no-deal outcome would likely result in an economic hit for both sides, disruption at UK-EU border points and political acrimony.

It would see the pair default to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January 1 – an expensive scenario especially for the UK, because it would suddenly be faced with tariffs and quotas on the goods it exports to the bloc.

There are more than 160 WTO members and each applies tariffs on other nations. The UK would apply these tariffs and quotes to the EU goods it imports, and vice versa.

Defaulting on WTO rules could potentially affect more than 650 billion pounds ($875bn) in annual trade between the UK and the EU.

This could wipe an extra 2 percent from the British economic output in 2021 and drive up inflation, unemployment and public borrowing, Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast.

A no-deal Brexit would also disrupt the busiest EU-UK border points, with border checks and taxes introduced for goods travelling between the two.

That means increased costs for businesses and delays for companies in several sectors – including car manufacturing, food, textiles, pharmaceuticals and chemicals – which rely on just-in-time supply chains.

Experts on both sides of the English Channel have warned that the UK, regardless of a trade deal, should brace itself for months of food shortages from the beginning of next year.

More than 25 percent of all food consumed in the UK last year was supplied by EU countries, and a no-deal Brexit could mean a rise in prices.

A no-deal outcome could also unleash a divisive blame game between politicians on both sides, shaking fraught relations further and potentially undermining cooperation at a time of crisis in the continent and beyond, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If no deal is reached before December 31, the UK and the EU could conceivably continue to hold talks from 2021, but the fallout from failing to reach an agreement by the end of this year may dampen that prospect.

The deal in question relates to trade. In terms of travel, there will be changes on January 1 regardless of whether an agreement is reached, because freedom of movement ends under Brexit.

UK citizens will still be able to travel to most EU nations visa free, but may need a visa or permit to stay for longer periods for work, study, or business travel.

There could be border delays, with UK citizens no longer able to use EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes.

Source: Al Jazeera