In a referendum on 23 June 2016, the British were asked whether the United Kingdom should remain or leave the European Union. The majority – 52% – decided in favor of leaving the bloc and the exit was scheduled for March 2019. The referendum was just the beginning of a long process of negotiations between the UK and other EU countries, carried out by the British Prime Minister Theresa May.

On 29 March the British Parliament rejected for the third time the government’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. The UK now faces a new deadline of 12 April to come up with a way forward. By that point, the Parliament has three options: deliver an approved deal, decide whether to leave without a deal or to prepare to delay Brexit for a much longer period.  

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU without an agreement in sight involves the abrupt abolition of the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons set out in the Treaty of Rome. It means there would be no transition period, so consumers, businesses and public bodies would have to respond immediately to changes as a resulting of leaving the EU.

In this way, what would actually happen in the event of “no deal”? 

There remains considerable uncertainty regarding the possible outcomes of the Brexit process. As of the first week of April, the UK parliament have held votes on a range of options for a path forward, all of which were rejected, and cross-party negotiations have been announced in another attempt to find some common ground. The risk of future disruptions and unrest will depend on the outcome of these proceedings.

During these two years of negotiations, SAFEY has provided real-time security alerts on the Brexit-related incidents, including demonstrations and associated disruptions, especially in London, and will keep on updating every relevant information to keep travellers safe and informed.

Several methods of transportation between the United Kingdom and EU member states are expected to be disrupted in a significant way by a No-deal Brexit.

The EU commission has formulated contingency plans with the stated intention of preserving what is called “basic connectivity” regarding various modes of transport. As the term “basic” implies, the number of transport options and locations serviced is likely to be limited. These measures will also be temporary pending formal agreements and based on reciprocity between the parties.

Regarding flights, the EU has presented a plan where they would allow UK air operators to fly to destinations in the member states territories for a period of 12 months, and the UK government has stated their intent to act reciprocally. Therefore, the effects of a hard Brexit on flight services may be limited. Some flight disruption may result from restrictions on code-sharing, aircraft leasing and other arrangements.

Regarding Eurostar, it is officially based in the UK and has access to the UK railway network. According to the French government, as the company created a subsidiary in the country, it will be allowed to operate on the French rail network after Brexit. Even though trains are thus expected to continue to operate, they are likely to be subject to disruption. Passport checks would need to be implemented at Eurostar stations which may result in delays.

Both parties have stated that road transport companies and bus operators will be allowed to operate as normal until the end of 2019.

A significant potential impact following the UK’s departure from the EU is related to customs. Since the UK would no longer be part of the Union’s regulatory framework and would be excluded from their customs procedures, it would have to revert to World Trade Organisation rules on trade, changing from the open system within the EU to those that are in place between the Union and other third-party states. The preservation of the current structure would require a special comprehensive trade agreement. As of 1 April, there are plans to hold indicative votes in the UK parliament to consider the feasibility of a customs union, a possibility that EU representatives have expressed receptivity to.

Following a No-deal Brexit, import and export between the UK and EU would be subject to customs formalities. This include a range of measures, including obtaining licenses, safety certificates, import/export declarations and tax administration. Increased customs checks and procedures at border points could lead to significant delays as a direct impact unless considerable measures to mitigate this are implemented. In the longer term, they will likely have a detrimental impact on business cooperation and development.

Also, the price of imported goods in UK shops could go up as a result, and some goods, including certain foodstuffs, may no longer be in stock. Major companies could move their operations to the EU to avoid delays in basic goods coming across the border and to maintain access to the EU single market.

The UK would be free to set its own controls on immigration by EU nationals and the bloc could do the same for British citizens. There could be long delays at borders if passport and customs checks are heightened. 

UK nationals who are legally residing in their territories – there are about 1.3 million Britons in EU countries – will reportedly be allowed to stay. In many cases, the situation depends on reciprocal measures by the UK government for nationals of the respective countries – at least 3.7 million Europeans are currently living in Britain. The implementation will however be transitional, and many of those affected will need to apply for new residence permits if they intend to stay in their country of residence long term.

However, once the UK has left the EU, UK nationals will no longer be EU citizens and will become third country nationals, so even though they are allowed residency permits, the Freedom of Movement principle within the EU would be no longer applicable. Besides residency permits, other official documentation, such as work and education, may become necessary for expatriates of all nationalities to consider.

Both the EU and the UK has stated that they intend to allow visa-free travel for short stays based on reciprocity. UK citizens will be allowed to stay within the Schengen area for 90 days in any six-month period during the transition period. From 2021 they will need to apply through the EU visa waiver program ETIAS before travel.

Agreements concerning banking and financial services for expatriates may change. Services are expected to be continued but account forms may need to be changed for administrative purposes. Citizens with a UK bank account who intend to use their bank card to pay for goods and services while in the European Economic Area (EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have been warned that it may become more expensive.

If driving in the EU after exit, UK nationals may need an International Driving Permit and a green card from your insurer.

At the moment, EU rules regulate health and care access to UK citizens in the EU and to EU citizens in the UK. European Union citizens are entitled to a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which gives access to medically necessary, state-provided health care during a temporary stay in another country member on the same basis as nationals of that country.

In a no-deal event, the UK government will reportedly seek to protect ruling reciprocal healthcare rights through transitory bilateral arrangements with other member states. However, this is not certain so British citizens travelling to the EU would probably need to take out private travel insurance.

Also in the event of a no-deal Brexit, authorized bodies in the UK won’t be recognized by EU regulators anymore, which could lead to shortages of medications and some medical devices becoming inaccessible. According to Ministers and National Health Service (NHS) leaders, efforts are being made to ensure there will be enough medicines and clinical equipment available if delays to imports from the EU occur – around 37 million packs of medicines are imported to the UK from the EU every month.

At present, there are no tariffs or customs checks on goods crossing the Irish border in either direction. When the UK leaves the EU, the UK’s government aims to avoid an immediate hard border (physical infrastructure for checks on people and goods) between Northern Ireland and Ireland, so, for a temporary period, no new tariffs and no new checks or controls would be imposed. EU member states have also shown intention to avoid a hard border and to uphold the integrity of the single market and customs union ­– the so-called “Irish Backstop”.

However, in the case of a No-deal Brexit, without a Withdrawal Agreement, there would be no backstop. Then the authorities would have to somehow keep the border open and yet ensure that the appropriate controls are applied.

According to estimates some 35,000 people cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland daily. If a post-Brexit development would lead to an enforced border it may have significant social and economic impact. In that case there is a risk that the consequences of a no-deal Brexit could lead to an increase in unrest and tensions in Northern Ireland as it may lead to polarize nationalist and unionist elements in the region.

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have far-reaching implications for its foreign policy and diplomacy and raises questions of how “Brexit” will affect its relationships with Europe and the world. The impact of Brexit on the United Kingdom’s foreign and security policy relationships will be determined by several factors and gives rise to prospective scenarios.

With Brexit, covering trade, security and defense, development and foreign policy with both EU and non-EU powers will mostly be revised. In a no-deal event, there would not be a transition period and law enforcement co-operation would come to an abrupt suspension, which would create immediate uncertainty with the risk of operational disruption and potential security implications.



Patrícia Baruffi  GWS Analyst

Security risk analyst based in São Paulo

Copyright Safeture 2019