No-deal Brexit: What you need to know

Image copyright Getty Images

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit is very much alive, as Tory leadership contenders jostle to take over from Theresa May as prime minister.

But what does the term “no deal” really mean?

What is a no-deal Brexit?

This means the UK would immediately leave the European Union (EU) with no agreement about the “divorce” process.


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Overnight, the UK would leave the single market and customs union – arrangements designed to help trade between EU members by eliminating checks and tariffs (taxes on imports).

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Brexit Party gained the most MEPs in May’s European elections, on a no-deal platform

No deal also means immediately leaving EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice and Europol, its law enforcement body.

And the UK would no longer contribute to the EU budget – currently about £9bn a year.

Under Theresa May’s deal – which was voted down three times by Parliament – the UK would have entered a 21-month transition period.

This would have provided some breathing space, maintaining much of the status quo, while the two sides tried to negotiate a trade deal.

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Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

How could it happen?

After Theresa May’s deal was defeated, the Brexit deadline was extended to 31 October.


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If nothing else happens, a no-deal Brexit will happen then.

To avoid a no-deal Brexit on this date, the UK government must pass a Brexit divorce plan into law, obtain another extension from the EU, or cancel Brexit.

Many politicians are against no deal.

They say it would damage the economy and lead to border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But some politicians support no deal and say disruption could be quickly overcome.

What would it mean for trade?

Under a no-deal Brexit, there would be no time to bring in a UK-EU trade deal.

Trade would initially have to be on terms set by the World Trade Organization (WTO), an agency with 162 member countries.

If this happens, tariffs – taxes on imports – will apply to most goods UK businesses send to the EU.

Some companies worry that could make their goods less competitive.

The UK government has already said most tariffs will be abolished for EU goods coming to the UK, if there is no deal.

But the EU doesn’t have to do the same.

Trading on WTO terms would also mean border checks for goods, which could cause bottlenecks at ports, such as Dover.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protests have been held against the possible return of a hard border in Ireland after a no-deal Brexit

What about the Irish border?

No-one really knows what will happen at the Irish border under no deal.


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The “backstop” – the “insurance policy” in Theresa May’s deal to stop border posts on the Irish border – would no longer exist.

No-deal supporters say technological solutions could maintain an invisible border.

But EU law says border checks would still be needed on goods such as food and chemicals.

However, neither the UK or Irish governments have so far said they would be willing to install border posts.

What about the ‘divorce bill’?

No-deal supporters say the UK could avoid paying the divorce settlement – widely thought to be £39bn – agreed by Theresa May’s government.

But opinion is split on what happens if the UK refuses to pay and there’s a possibility the UK could end up in an international tribunal.

Even if there were no legal consequences, refusing to pay could mean political fallout – lessening the UK’s chances of securing an EU trade deal in the future.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Esther McVey, a leadership contender, says Parliament must “actively embrace” no deal

What does it mean for individuals?

If a no deal disrupted cross-Channel trade, some food prices could rise – a possibility highlighted by a government assessment.

EU citizens in the UK can apply for settled status, allowing them to remain even if there is a no deal.

UK expats in the EU are advised to register as residents of the country they live in, although no deal could make moving across borders more difficult.

Mobile phone roaming charges could return – although some operators have already ruled this out.

Travelling with pets will become more complicated and expensive.

And European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) would be invalid after a no-deal Brexit.

Are preparations under way?

The government is looking at what might happen in a worst-case no-deal scenario. This includes:

  • border delays
  • increased immigration checks
  • less food available
  • possible price increases for utilities, food and fuel
Image copyright Gareth Fuller/PA
Image caption A section of the M20 had been reserved exclusively for lorries, as part of no-deal Brexit plans

Businesses have been encouraged to prepare by stockpiling in case supplies are disrupted.


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Supporters of no deal say some of the risks have been exaggerated and that previous warnings have proven unfounded.

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