Dire warnings as UK leaves the ‘magic circle’

Extension: The UK and EU agreed last night it was “responsible to go the extra mile”.

Would no deal be a disaster for Britain? Yesterday was deadline day – but at the last minute both sides agreed to carry on talking, despite Boris Johnson warning that failure was likely.

At exactly 11 o’clock on January 31st this year, the sound of Big Ben rang out across London on a cold and dreary night to mark a momentous occasion: more than three years after the Brexit referendum, the UK had finally left the EU.

Some were jubilant; in Parliament Square, hundreds braved the rain to hold a party. Others were devastated – in Scotland, demonstrators held a candlelit vigil.

But when dawn broke on 1 February, life remained much the same for many Britons. The UK had entered a transition period: leaders had 11 months to negotiate a new deal for life after Brexit.

Now, this time is running out. Despite days of crunch talks in Brussels, officials have so far failed to reach a trade agreement.

Here, we look at the possible outcomes in five key areas of life if leaders fail to reach a deal by the end of December.

Shopping. If no deal is reached, Britain will trade with the EU on WTO terms. This means that the UK and the EU could put tariffs on each other’s goods.

Tariffs are a source of income for the government, but experts warn they could also raise prices. The UK imports more than 80% of its fresh fruit – if tariffs are imposed, one report suggests that the average family will pay £65 more each year to eat their five a day.

While this is bad news for fruit fans, it could be good news for some British farmers – one supermarket boss said last week that cheese lovers may now choose cheaper Cheddar over French Brie to avoid higher prices.

And despite confusion at the ports, most agree that the supermarkets will not see empty shelves in the New Year – as long as shoppers refrain from panic buying.

Business. Tariffs could affect businesses as well as shoppers – 43% of British exports went to the EU last year. A 10% tariff on imported cars may also hit consumers – new cars could rise in price by up to £1,500.

In the city, despite an estimated extra £15bn price tag per year for paperwork, businesses are hoping their preparations mean they will avoid any Brexit chaos.

Some say it is French fishermen that will be the loudest losers – if they are banned from fishing in UK water, they plan to blockade French ports and stop British boats entering.

Holidays. Covid-19 restrictions aside, UK citizens will be able to travel to the EU for up to 90 days at a time, but no more than six months in total per year. Britons who want to live in the EU will have to apply for a visa.

In the short term, getting to Europe may prove more difficult than normal – according to Yellowhammer, a leaked government document of worst-case scenarios, there could be a three-month “meltdown” at UK ports.

Driving. To drive to Europe, Brits will need to buy an international driving permit for £5.50. But there is bad news for pets: dogs, cats and ferrets may face a set of stringent new rules to go on holiday.

Phones. In theory, the EU ban on roaming charges will end if there is no trade deal. But Britain’s biggest providers say they have no plans to reintroduce the fees.

So, is no deal a disaster?

Crunch time

Absolutely, say some. A no deal Brexit will be a nightmare for politicians and ordinary citizens alike. Queues on the roads, tariffs on goods and maybe even the lights going out is bad news for both businesses and consumers. Some economists predict the long-term cost could be three times more than the cost of coronavirus. Both the UK and the EU need to start preparing for the worst case scenario.

Of course not, say others. Most of the world already operates perfectly well on WTO terms, and the UK will still have access to the EU market. A no-deal Brexit presents a huge opportunity for Britain. Free to make its own rules, the UK could become a trading hub like Singapore or Hong Kong. With the right plans in place, Britain could not only cope with no deal, but thrive.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to be an optimist, a pessimist or somewhere in between?
  2. If politicians cannot agree on a deal, should they leave it to business leaders to try to find a solution?


  1. Make a poster to help people prepare for how their life might change if the UK and EU do not reach a trade deal.
  2. Was Brexit a good decision for Britain? What about for the EU? Conduct your own referendum by holding a class vote on these issues.

Some People Say...

“Of course Brexit means that something is wrong in Europe. But Brexit means also that something was wrong in Britain.”

Jean-Claude Juncker (1954 - ), Luxembourg politician and former President of the European Commission

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that there are several key areas of dispute between EU and UK leaders, including business competition rules, fishing rights for EU fleets in UK waters and whether or not the European Court of Justice should settle future trade disputes. Last Wednesday, Boris Johnson and European commission president Ursula von der Leyen met in person over a three-hour scallop dinner, but even they failed to break the deadlock.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether an “Australia style” deal would be a good or a bad thing for the UK. Last week, Boris Johnson warned his Cabinet to “get on and make preparations” for a departure on terms like Australia, which does not have a trade deal with the EU. But former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has warned Johnson to “be careful what you wish for,” and some have pointed out that Australia is currently trying to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

Word Watch

Big Ben
A nickname for the clock tower at the UK’s Houses of Parliament. The bell is currently undergoing restoration, so a recording was used to mark the departure.
World Trade Organisation. Under WTO rules, the UK government could not set different tariffs for different countries unless they had a formal trade agreement.
A form of tax on imports. Each product will have a different tariff - for some EU dairy products, such as French cheese, tariffs in the UK will be more than 30%.
Many banks which operate in the UK have set up offices in EU countries so they can keep providing services for EU customers while abiding by WTO rules.
French fishermen
At the moment, French fishing boats catch 30% of their fish in UK waters.
The UK government is hoping to avoid traffic chaos by building a large lorry park in Kent near the port of Dover.
New rules
If the UK becomes “unlisted” under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, all pets will need to be microchipped to enter Europe. Dogs, cats and ferrets will need to be vaccinated against rabies, have a blood sample checked by an approved vet three months in advance and obtain an animal health certificate.
Lights going out
In 2018, 3% of Britain’s electricity and 74% of gas was imported from Europe. Total failure is unlikely, but electricity and gas companies have been asked by the UK government to make contingency plans.

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