Food, flights and the costs of no-deal Brexit

Worth it? According to Survation, 30% of Britons support leaving the EU with no deal. © Getty

Today, Theresa May will outline her “Plan B” for Brexit. Meanwhile, some MPs are plotting to take control of Parliament to prevent a no-deal exit. What is no deal? And how would it affect you?

“No deal is better than a bad deal.” This has been Theresa May’s Brexit refrain for two years, as she hashed out a withdrawal agreement with the EU. Now that that agreement has been rejected by MPs, leaving without a deal has become more likely.

At least two groups of rebel MPs are working on plans to block a no-deal Brexit in Parliament. Yesterday, a cabinet minister accused them of trying to “steal Brexit”.

But what exactly would no deal mean?

Essentially, it would sever all ties between the UK and EU overnight, with no transition period. The laws which govern their interactions would disappear. Here are five ways that might affect you…

1/ Prices. Britain would trade with other countries on the basic terms of the World Trade Organization. That would include tariffs. Exports to the EU would be taxed, on average, at 2.6%. But some tariffs are higher: cars are taxed at 10%, and dairy products at 35%. Those extra business costs would lead to higher prices for customers.

2/ Food. Around 30% of Britain’s food is imported from the EU. At the border, lorries that were once waved through would have to go through customs checks. Experts say that just two minutes each would lead to 17 miles of traffic at Dover’s ports. This could lead to gridlocked roads — and potential food shortages if problems persist. However, the government has insisted there would be “adequate food supplies” in the case of no deal.

3/ Health. The NHS has been stockpiling medicines to prevent a shortage. However, some supplies (such as the radioactive isotopes used for cancer treatment) have a shelf life of just a few days. Long delays at the border would make them useless.

4/ Holidays. The European Commission has introduced temporary measures to keep planes from being grounded. However, UK tourists may need to apply for visas to visit Europe.

5/ Citizenship. Whatever happens, the UK’s 3.5 million EU citizens will be free to stay. But they will have to apply for “settled status”. In the case of no deal, it will become harder for EU citizens to bring over family members. The status of the 1.2 million Britons in Europe will depend on the country they live in, but the EU has encouraged states to be “generous”.

Deal or no deal?

The Confederation of British Industry has warned that a no-deal Brexit will shrink the UK’s GDP by 8% and risk thousands of jobs. For some, it is worth any short-term pain to get a “clean” break from the EU. Some Brexiteers have even invoked the UK’s “blitz spirit” as proof that it can survive hard times.

But is it worth it? Is no deal really better than a bad deal? It would allow Britain to have total independence, but is that enough for it to succeed in the modern world?

You Decide

  1. Should Britain leave the EU without a deal?
  2. Who should decide Brexit’s future: MPs or Theresa May?


  1. Summarise the effects of a no-deal Brexit in one sentence. Compare your answers to the rest of the class.
  2. Choose another important area of life and research how it might be affected by a no-deal Brexit. Present your findings to the class.

Some People Say...

“You’ve got a Leave population and a Remain Parliament. Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process.”

Liam Fox, the UK international trade secretary

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Theresa May will set out her Brexit “Plan B” in the House of Commons today. She will then table a motion for MPs to debate the plan and vote for it on January 29. Various MPs will try to add amendments to this motion, which would block a no-deal Brexit. (More in the Word Watch and Become An Expert.) For now, however, it is UK law that Brexit will happen on March 29 at 11pm, with or without a deal.
What do we not know?
Exactly what May’s “Plan B” will involve, although reports suggest that she will attempt to replace the Northern Irish backstop with an “agreement with Ireland”. We do not know whether it will be enough to get a majority of MPs on side, or whether she can get EU leaders to agree if they do. We also do not know the long-term effects of a no-deal Brexit on the UK.

Word Watch

The withdrawal agreement was voted down by 432 votes to 202 in Parliament last week. Theresa May will present her “Plan B” today.
Tory Dominic Grieve wants Parliament to be allowed to choose the debates and votes on Brexit instead of the government, as well as blocking a no-deal Brexit. Meanwhile, MPs from five parties want to extend the leaving date if no agreement is reached by February 26. Both would attempt this by adding amendments to a motion by Theresa May in the House of Commons.
World Trade Organization
A international organisation which governs the rules of trade between countries.
Taxes on imports and exports.
According to a government report on food prices and availability published in May last year. A further 11% of food is imported from non-EU countries via EU trade agreements.
Radioactive isotopes
Radiation which is used to kill off cancerous cells.
Gross Domestic Product; the value of all of a nation’s goods and services produced in a year. It is used to measure economic progress.
Blitz spirit
The blitz was the bombing of Britain in the Second World War.

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