The Impacts of a No-Deal Brexit on Civil Society - Parliamentary Briefing



The Impacts of a No-Deal Brexit on Civil Society 

Over 85 civil society organisations from all the devolved nations, and a breadth of English regions, signed an open letter to the Prime Minister sharing their grave concerns the impact no-deal Brexit will have on the sector, and communities they work with. 

Hard Border on the Island of Ireland 

  • Hardening of the border leads to Peace Process and Good Friday Agreement at risk and to loss of rights and major disruption in people's lives

Research from the Human Rights Consortium shows that a no-deal Brexit will inevitably lead to a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. Checks across the border will involve people, not just goods and services. These checks will disrupt individuals' lives as they cross the border to work, study, access healthcare and to be with friends and family.

No-deal Brexit is a direct threat to the Peace Process and will undermine the rights and safeguards in the Good Friday Agreement. This is at odds with the Government’s stated commitments to guarantee these protections. 

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has found technical solutions would not “remove the need for physical infrastructure at the border”, which will result in increased bureaucracy and costs for businesses and strict controls on the movement of animals and food products across the border. 

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action warned a no-deal would cause the “immediate loss of many of the rights of EU citizenship and massive uncertainty about what domestic legal rights protections will remain, including rights and protections guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement”. 

Regression in Rights

  • Without new arrangements in place across policy and law areas before 31st October, a number of rights are at risk of regressing before 31st October. 

This includes, as the Human Rights Consortium Scotland show, a right to highest attainable standard of health, right to private and family life, right to food, right to life and to protect people from threat to life and the right to education. 

Public Law Project research shows that a no-deal Brexit will leave EU citizens lacking statutory protection of their rights. 

As it currently stands, much of EU citizens’ rights and access to basic services is mainly found in government policy documents and explanatory notes. With fewer than two months before exit day, the lack of legal guarantees presents profound uncertainty for EU citizens. 

Further, in the event of a no-deal scenario EU citizens will have no right of appeal for refusals in the settled status scheme, but merely administrative review and judicial review, putting EU citizens in a further precarious and uncertain situation.

Article 159 of the Withdrawal Agreement sets out that the Independent Monitoring Authority will conduct inquiries into alleged breaches of the agreement on citizens’ rights. Following such complaints, the authority will also have the right to bring legal action before a court or tribunal in the UK.

A No-deal scenario means that an independent monitoring body may not be established, despite the fact that a no-deal exit does not remove the need for one and the right for claimants to submit potential breaches. 

Adding to the uncertainty is the Home Secretary's recent announcement to repeal Freedom of Movement ‘on day one of no-deal’ despite the fact the Immigration Bill has not passed. This leads to questions of rights, and legality for EU citizens as they are not sure where their rights stand in a no-deal.

Weaker Standards and Gaps in Governance 

  • There is not enough time before October 31st to replace the EU agencies that monitor and ensure compliance with the law meaning standards could fall away, and with little scrutiny by Parliament

Meanwhile, the Environment Bill has still not been brought forward, therefore the protections within will not be guaranteed and neither is the establishment of the Office of Environmental Protection. 

Friends of the Earth have warned of the UK becoming a dumping ground for toxic products. “Leaving the EU without a deal means leaving REACH. Without this regulation and enforcement, there is nothing to stop companies selling substances in the UK that are banned by the EU. And there's every reason to believe the UK could become a convenient dumping ground for toxic products”

Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, warn a no-deal Brexit could lead to farmers and fisheries competing against imports from countries with lower standards and therefore “Existing regulatory standards would come under downward pressure as farmers have to look for immediate cost-saving opportunities”

Lack of Parliamentary Scrutiny

  • The short time frame that a no-deal presents will have significant implications for effective parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation, primary and secondary 

There not enough time to get the five key Brexit bills (immigration, fisheries, agriculture, financial services and trade) on the statute book before exit day. The government has said it does not intend to bring forward any of the Brexit bills before exit day, relying instead on ‘workarounds’. In the absence of primary legislation, the government may use statutory instruments (SIs) to plug legislative gaps arising in a no-deal scenario. 

There are multiple problems with this approach. Statutory instruments receive far less scrutiny than primary legislation from parliament. In the absence of the Brexit bills, the government will likely use existing ‘Henry VIII’ powers to plug legislative gaps, potentially making major policy decision through secondary legislation. Further, many of the Brexit SIs already laid have received criticism for their poor drafting and have had to be reworked after businesses highlighted they were essentially unworkable. 


  • Civil society continues to face huge uncertainty about the future 

  • A hard border on the island of Ireland will have drastic consequences for citizens' rights and their ability to live their lives

  • Rights and standards will weaken and governance gaps will appear

  • The government has consistently failed to engage with civil society organisations. This includes a lack of information about: the replacement of EU funding, which many organisations are depending on to continue to operate, the rights of EU citizens, and how organisations should prepare 

  • Extended use of secondary legislation leaves few opportunities for civil society, and MPs, to meaningfully engage and have a voice in key policy changes arising from Brexit