A No Deal Brexit Is Looming On The Horizon



As the Brexit negotiations are becoming more and more fraught, the No Deal scenario is increasingly looming on the horizon.

There’s no secret that time is starting to run out - not only to conclude a deal with the EU but also to allow for Parliamentary approval of the deal (through to the so-called ‘meaningful vote’) and to subsequently pass the necessary legislation to give effect to the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU- all before March 2019.

The Institute for Government’s latest paper, ‘Possible scenarios for the next phase of Brexit’ concludes that the risks for a no deal are now quite high, given the “apparent stalemate in the negotiations, the precariousness of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary positions and the defaults now incorporated in the system" (the defaults being the Article 50 deadline in March 2019 and exit day being set out in statue).

On Friday a leak obtained by BuzzFeed UK showed a list of technical notes from the Government, designed to prepare the UK for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, which will cover more than 80 different topics, from environmental standards to workplace rights. These technical notes will be published in batches running through September, although, as seems to be a common occurrence, the timetable could slip. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is travelling to Brussels tomorrow in a bid to pick up the pace of talks with EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. Raab has said that securing a deal is still “the most likely outcomes” but added that making alternative arrangements was the responsible thing to do.

At the moment, the only certainty is uncertainty. Take the various pieces of Brexit legislation for instance- as things stand, there is little clarity about when the Brexit bills (eight to be exact) will be introduced to Parliament. These eight pieces of legislation are designed to legislate on issues previously governed by the EU or where the UK plans to run new regimes (i.e. agriculture and fisheries). A No Deal Brexit means that these need Royal Assent by 29th March 2019- a legislative timetable so tight seems impossible, particularly considering the parliamentary arithmetic. The crucial point is that it is currently impossible to know which scenarios will materialise; yet by the time that this is known, it would likely be too late to start passing the necessary domestic legislation. This matters not only for the sake of parliamentary scrutiny but also because these pieces of legislation will have significant implications across a range of sectors, from agriculture to immigration to the environment. Much recommended reading Mark Elliot’s piece ‘Legislating in the dark’ for more detailed analysis.

A No Deal Brexit will also leave significant gaps in governance in a range of areas- EU institutions have a role in monitoring, overseeing and ensuring compliance with the law as well as setting regulations. There simply isn’t the time to replace the infrastructure of these agencies if we crash out in March 2019. Take the most advanced chemicals regulatory system in the world, forinstance- EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals). Crashing out without a deal means leaving REACH, a system that took ten years to build up and cover over 21,000 chemicals. As Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth wrote for HuffPost, “in the absence of this regulation and enforcement, there is nothing to stop companies selling substances in the UK that are banned by the EU, and there is every reason to believe the UK could become a convenient dumping ground for toxic products”.

One report that came out last week which has already caused a stir is the British Medical Association's report. It issues some stark and sobering warnings about the risks to our health service if there is a No Deal. The report claims a No Deal Brexit could have wide-ranging, and potentially damaging consequences for health services across the UK and Europe, including on workforce and immigration, Northern Ireland, access to medicines, reciprocal healthcare, professional qualifications and patient safety, access to medical radioisotopes, medical research and rare diseases.

Meanwhile, some of our Alliance members in Northern Ireland are calling for urgent action by the EU, UK and Ireland to prioritise the protection of rights in the Brexit Withdrawal process. The joint letter, published in the Irish Times urges special measures that will protect the future of the peace process and ensure that commitments in the Joint Report of December 2017 are fully respected.

No one knows what the future might hold, some commentators are still saying a No Deal Brexit will not happen, but just as business needs certainty in order to plan effectively going forward, so does organisations and civil society across the UK.

Brexit Civil Society Alliance: Party Conference Fringe Events

On a separate, an slightly more upbeat tone, we are hosting fringe events at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences this autumn. We will bring together experts and relevant stakeholders to assess what the future might hold for UK civil society in a post-Brexit world. We'd be delighted if you can join us. You can find more information below.




24TH SEPTEMBER, 12.30-14.00


Stephen Kinnock, MP and member of the European Scrutiny Committee & the Committee on Exiting the European Union

John Downie, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Anna Nicholl, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

Daniel Holder,  Committee on the Administration of Justice

Paddy Kelly,  Children’s Law Centre

Chair: Jane Thomas, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance

One of the (many) unintended consequences of the referendum result has been the challenges forced on the devolved nations and regions as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

From the many and vexed questions around the future of the border in Northern Ireland and the potential strains placed on the Good Friday Agreement to the refusal of the Scottish Parliament to grant consent to EU Withdrawal Act, it is evident that there are significant constitutional rifts in the UK. Our Labour Party conference fringe event which will bring together leading experts from across the UK to explore the implications that leaving the EU will have on hard-won devolution settlements. Register here.





1ST OCTOBER, 17.45-19.00


Corey Stoughton, Acting Director, Liberty

Craig Bennett, CEO, Friends of the Earth

Alison Pickup, Public Law Project

Chair: Baroness McIntosh of Pickering

Business has made the case for certainty and clarity as we leave the EU. Equally, civil society across the UK also needs that certainty to be able to plan effectively going forward.

This event will bring together experts and relevant stakeholders who have been working on Brexit legislation across the nations and regions of the UK. They will assess what challenges, threats and opportunities lie ahead for UK civil society in a post-Brexit world. Register here.


NewsletterSamuel Ellis