Dublin: It’s unprecedented for a nation to leave the European Union — but that exactly will happen in 100 days; time with the United Kingdom ends its 45-year membership with the political, social and economic bloc.
Right now, the EU nations together make up the world’s third-largest economy, where 570 million can move and trade freely, living under a common set of rules, working together in a European Parliament, and adhering to a common judicial policy overseen by the European Court of Justice.
Here’s a look at some scenarios that may happen come March 29 — Brexit day.
By a majority of 51.9 to 28.1 per cent and on a voter turnout of 72 per cent, the majority of Britons choose to leave the European Union — Brexit.
The timetable was set in motion when, on March 29 2017, United Kingdom Theresa May formally gave notice to the EU that it intended to leave to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting a withdrawal date of March 29, 2019 — 100 days from now.
Negotiations on the terms of withdrawal began in earnest in July 2017. Recently, in late November, both the EU and UK government reached the terms of a deal — a 585-page legal agreement. That deal must be ratified by the UK parliament before January 21 at the latest, otherwise the UK will be leaving the bloc without a deal — the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ scenario. With a deal, it becomes a ‘soft Brexit’ — one that allows both sides to reach an orderly Brexit.
The transition period
Both the UK and the EU have agreed that if there is a deal, the soft Brexit will include a transition — a period to allow both sides to work out a future trading arrangement. That will end on December 31, 2020, or up to two years’ later if both sides agree.
The soft Brexit
The UK leaves having ratified a withdrawal agreement
So, assuming that the UK parliament does indeed ratify the withdrawal agreement it has negotiated with the European Union — and that the national governments of the remaining EU27 and the European Parliament in Strasburg do likewise — what happens come 11:01pm in London on March 29, 100 days from now?
The short answer is nothing — but it does mark the start of an implementation or transition period that is due to end on December 31, 2020 — which can be extended out as far as December 31, 2022 by mutual consent. That transition period allows for both the EU and the UK to work out their future trading agreement.
But the withdrawal agreement — all 585 pages of it — does set out some important points.
Firstly, it clarifies how much and when the UK will compensate the EU for its financial obligations — some £39 billion (Dh181.2 billion). It also clarifies the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after March 29, and the rights of UK citizens living in the EU then.
And it has agreed a mechanism to prevent a “hard border” on the island of Ireland — the so-called “backstop”.
For now, the UK will remain in the broader European Economic Area covering the EU28 along with Lichtenstein, Iceland and Norway, and the EU. It won’t be able to sign free trade agreements with other nations until the transition period ends, and it will still abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice until then.
Effectively, the withdrawal agreement means it’s business as usual, planes can fly, there won’t be queues at borders, and it’s pretty much the same — with the transition period providing time to agree on all the outstanding issues.
The hard Brexit
The UK leaves the EU without any withdrawal agreement
This is the worst-case scenario and occurs if the UK parliament fails to ratify the withdrawal agreement and does not withdraw its notice of intent to leave the EU by 11pm on March 29.
For this scenario to occur, the key dates are January 21 and then five days later, January 26.
The UK must approve a withdrawal agreement by January 21. If it doesn’t, it then has five days to lay out it’s no deal plans to parliament — and Europe.
So, what happens come 11:01pm in London on March 29 is there’s no deal?
Straight away, the UK reverts to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. Simply put, there are 164 nations who are members of the WTO, and it sets out a schedule of tariffs that are applied to goods that move between countries where there is no free trade agreement in place. That’s the position the UK and EU will be in — both have been trading freely for the past 45 years.
That’s the simple explanation. The implications and complications of this mean that every truck, every container moving between the UK and any nation in the EU, will have to be stopped, inspected, its load assessed according to the WTO schedules, and tariffs applied — and most likely paid — before the truck or container can move on.
A lot of work has already been done by governments across Europe on this, and the predictions of chaos are universal.
The dire predictions are weeks’-long delays at ports on both sides of the English channel and on the Irish border:
• Supermarket shelves will empty, prices will increase, there will be a shortage of foodstuffs, goods, and consumers will bear the brunt.
• For any business that imports or exports goods, there will be inevitable lengthy delays at ports.
• Medicines will not be readily available.
• UK passengers will face delays in travelling simply because they will line up in different queues than EU passport holders.
• UK passport holders will be required to fill out an electronic visa application costing £6 for three years to travel to EU nations other than Ireland. (Both the UK and Ireland are in a joint travel area, outside of the Schengen visa scheme).
• Air travel to and from EU nations are likely to be suspended simply because EU nations operate a common air traffic system.
• The pound will likely decrease dramatically in value. Since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, sterling has lost some 20 per cent against the euro. That’s likely to increase, and could very well drop to levels below the euro.
• In a briefing from Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England to the UK cabinet, he said property prices could fall by up to one-third across Britain in the event of a no-deal scenario.
• The immediate impact on Ireland would be a 2 to 3 per cent drop in its gross domestic product, with an increase in food prices due to delays in shipping between the EU through the UK to the island of Ireland.
• British car makers say that at least 100,000 jobs are at risk — and possibly as many as 800,000 in related companies — it there are long delays. Auto companies rely on a just-in-time delivery system that will be disrupted by port delays.
• Lorries from the UK would no longer be able to use EU roads unless they are licensed — and there will be only one EU license available for every 25 trucks.
• British police forces have made contingency plans for civil unrest that may be spurred by the no deal scenario.
• Scotland’s nationalist government has said that a no deal scenario would mean it would accelerate plans for a second referendum on independence. Scottish voters overwhelmingly backed Remain in the Brexit referendum, and the chaos following a no deal Brexit would very well push the independence movement over the edge.
• There would a very real prospect of political and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland re-igniting as the current seamless border is replaced with one where customs, passport and security checks are necessary. Hardline Irish republicans would see a hard border as a sign that the constitution march towards Irish unity has failed, and that a return to a campaign of violence was again necessary to move the issue forward.
• The UK would be free to sign any free trade deal it could from March 29 onwards.
• The UK would no longer have to abide by rulings from the European Court of Justice.
• The UK would be free to set its own labour, environment, health, and transport policies without regard to the EU.
• The UK would have taken back control of its domestic, trade and political fortunes.
• The UK electorate would remain fractured by the Brexit issue, with Brexiteers satisfied in reaching their goal, but with Remainers likely campaigning to rejoining the EU
The key dates
January 21, 2019
The last date that the United Kingdom government can present it plans for a deal for withdrawing from the EU, a date set in stone by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act of 2018.
January 26, 2019
If no deal can be reached by the deadline five days’ earlier is reached, the UK government must present its plans to parliament for a no deal withdrawal by this date.
January to March 2019
If a withdrawal deal has been reached, it must be ratified by parliaments and governments, and across Europe, and by the European Parliament in Strasbourg itself by a simple majority.
11pm, March 29, 2019
The UK formally leaves the EU at this time in London, 12 midnight in Brussels, 2am in the UAE. A 21-month transition period kicks in then, with both sides maintaining their existing relationship while working on the details of their future relationship.
Should there indeed be no deal, World Trade Organisation rules — the default no deal OR ‘hard Brexit’ scenario — come into effect immediately.
July 1, 2020
Under the terms of the draft Brexit agreement, either the UK or EU can request an extension of the transition period of between one and two years.
December 31, 2020
If both the UK and EU have agreed on a Brexit agreement and have agreed on their future relationship, the transition period ends.
December 31, 2021
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has suggested this date in negotiations as her preferred end of the transition period.
December 31, 2022
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Bernier, has suggested this date as the end for the transition period to ensure there’s a trading deal in place.