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WTF is actually happening with Brexit?

Once upon a time, on the 23rd June 2016, 52 percent of UK voters said they wanted to Leave the European Union. And then all hell broke loose.

Although Brexit day is set for the 29th March 2019, the country is still arguing about what Brexit means, what it should look like and whether it should happen at all.

In November 2018 British Prime Minister Theresa May said she had negotiated a deal with the EU where both sides agreed how to treat each other after Brexit. British MPs will vote on whether to accept that deal or not on 11th December.

Already, lots of MPs say they hate the deal and won't vote for it. So what happens if parliament quashes May's plan? Well, MPs could come up with a new strategy, or throw the question back to the people with either a general election or a People's Vote (i.e. a second referendum).

Either way, the options are likely to boil down to this: (1) the UK Brexits under May's deal, (2) the UK Brexits with no deal, (3) the UK stays in the EU and doesn't Brexit at all, (4) the UK goes back to the EU to negotiate a new deal, and the process starts all over again.

So, which option is best? Let's break it down.

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Is Theresa May right that her deal is "the only possible deal" the UK could get from the EU?

Well, plenty of people say she's wrong. Several politicians and high-profile Brexiteers have suggested that May was just a crummy negotiator (or secret Brexit-hating saboteur) and that if the UK just put its foot down a bit more firmly the EU would cave in and give it a fantastic deal that would keep all the good bits of EU membership while jettisoning the bad bits. (What counts as the good and bad bits depends on your perspective).

And it's true that the EU will lose out from a bad (aka no-deal) Brexit. But people point to some pretty compelling reasons that May is right that it's "my deal, no deal or no Brexit". Namely:

  1. Self-preservation: if the EU gave the UK a deal that made life better outside the EU than in it, all the other EU members would want to leave too and the EU would collapse.
  2. Politics: EU countries have voters too, and plenty of them would kick up a fuss if their government didn't protect their interests. No country is going to help Britain make life difficult for their citizens who are visiting, working or living in the UK, for instance.
  3. Maths: Most number-crunchers, including the IMF, agree that the EU has less to lose from a bad deal than the UK does. That means the EU has a stronger hand in the Brexit negotiation.

 

So let's say it is May's deal, no deal or no Brexit. How would each option change the economy?

 

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Here's what would happen to TRAVEL:

May's Brexit deal
During the transition period, Brits can carry on visiting the EU much as before: no visas or fees. But Brits will be able to get the infamous blue passport from October 2019. What happens to travel after the transition period depends on what deal is struck, but British tourists are a big source of cash for some EU countries, so it's likely to make it as easy for them to visit as poss.

No deal
At least short-term, there would be mass confusion about who could go where when. Planes between EU and UK might be grounded as the paperwork that allows them to fly becomes invalid. Brits wanting to visit the EU might have to pay for visas and apply well in advance. Brits already in the EU might be temporarily stranded and EU holidays cancelled.

Remaining in EU
Freedom of movement means Brits and EU citizens could visit each other's countries to their heart's content, with no restrictions. Holidays stay a third cheaper. Phone companies would be forbidden by law to charge roaming charges when abroad. And because there are zero EU laws about passport colours, Brits could even make blue ones.

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Here's what would happen to TRADE:

May's Brexit deal
The UK will stay in the EU customs union for a "transition period" of 21-months. During that time the UK can swap stuff with the EU without limits, checks or tariffs, but it can't have any new trade deals with other countries. It also gets no say in any rule changes. The idea is the EU and UK negotiate a proper trade deal during the transition period. If they don't,the backstop comes in (see below).

No deal
From Brexit day, UK-EU trade would be governed by World Trade Organisation rules. The UK would lose current trade deals with non-EU countries. Tariffs would be applied to most things crossing UK borders, making foreign stuff more expensive to buy and UK things more expensive to sell abroad. Stuff would have to be checked before in could come in or out of the country, leading to big delays in moving things around. That probs means loads of road congestion, and shops not having things in stock.

Remaining in EU
The UK stays in the EU customs union, meaning it can buy and sell any good or service from/to EU countries with no limits, checks or tariffs (taxes). It also stays part of existing EU trade deals with 50 other countries. It cannot independently negotiate any new trade deals, but it gets to keep Brits on EU negotiating team and have a say about T&Cs.

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Here's what would happen to IMMIGRATION:

May's Brexit deal
Any EU citizen who rocks up in Britain (and vice versa) before the end of the transition period gets the right to live and work there, just as before. But the UK is likely to pressure the EU to agree to a subsequent deal that heavily limits EU migration, as stopping freedom of movement is a favourite policy of Brexiteers.

No deal
The UK gets instant, complete control over its borders. It can choose to let no foreign people in at all or only let in people who have skills or traits the government likes (e.g. they're a nurse / really rich and planning to spend some of that wealth in Britain).
But EU citizens in the UK and British expats living in the EU would suddenly have no guaranteed right to continue to live, work, or get free healthcare in their adopted country.

Remaining in EU
Freedom of movement continues, and anyone from the EU has the right to settle in the UK. (The UK continues to control its immigration policy for anyone from outside the EU). But, if current trends continue, the number of EU citizens in Britain will still fall. That's because lots are now leaving / never arriving, either because they find Brits hostile or they think there's better opportunities in their native country.

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Here's what would happen to MONEY:

May's Brexit deal
Britain will give the EU about £39 billion. This "divorce bill" is to pay for the UK's share of the EU's budget up to 2020 (i.e. when it's in that transition period and therefore still getting all the benefits of being part of the EU) and to settle up its outstanding bills for projects it has already said that it'd pay for.

No deal
The UK doesn't have to pay the EU any money. But lots of people who have money invested in Britain will pull it out if they think (1) the UK can't be trusted to pay what it owes, (2) Britain has just become a bad bet (because of the disruption we've listed). The pound will almost certainly go down in value (it's gone down every time a no deal seems more likely). That means pounds will be worth less compared to other currencies. It will be more expensive for Brits buy anything from abroad and go on holiday, but British stuff and holidays will be cheaper for foreigners.

Remaining in EU
The UK will continue paying its EU membership fee of about £13 billion a year. It'll also continue to receive about £4.5 billion of EU money forprojects like pepping up poorer parts of the country and helping farmers. Some speculators (people who try to make money from the stock market) will be disappointed because uncertainty around Brexit made the value of everything change a lot, creating "pockets of opportunity" for some lucky betters to make lots of profit.

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Here's what would happen to BUSINESSES:

May's Brexit deal
One of the big motivations for the transition period is to help businesses adjust to Brexit. The idea is firms that do lots of work with/in the EU are less likely to panic about losing access and relocate (taking jobs and investment with them). But some companies won't invest in the UK as long as there's uncertainty about what conditions are going to be like in a few years.

No deal
UK businesses will find it harder and/or more expensive to buy non-local stuff and sell stuff abroad. They might also have huge problems hiring and retaining EU workers because freedom of movement will end and some EU professional licenses may no longer be valid. Higher business costs will probably mean higher prices for customers and/or less jobs available.

Remaining in EU
Businesses who want easy access to the EU will in theory still consider the UK a good place to set up shop. In particular, the City of London would likely continue to be one of the biggest financial centres in the world. (It needs seamless access to the EU in order to continue all its finance-y stuff in the most efficient manner). But businesses would have to follow EU rules and regulations, which some grumble stop them maximising profits.

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Here's what would happen to NORTHERN IRELAND:

May's Brexit deal
The deal contains a 'backstop' clause specifically to stop a border going up between Ireland (which is part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK). If no trade deal is agreed during the transition period, the UK will automatically go into a goods custom union with the EU to ensure stuff can move from Ireland to the UK without being stopped. There might be discreet checks between N. Ireland and other bits of the UK.

No deal
Although May has promised there will never be anything physically marking the N. Ireland border, there will need to be something in place to stop stuff and people moving between EU and UK post-Brexit in defiance of immigration and trade controls. The worry is that any hint of a  border in N. Ireland and Ireland, or between N. Ireland and the UK, could reignite the blood-soaked argument about whether N. Ireland is rightfully part of Ireland or the UK.

Remaining in EU
Everything and everyone can move freely between Ireland, N. Ireland and the UK. That helps stop tensions rising among communities who feel differently about the relationship between the three areas. And Ireland and the UK, who trade more with each other than most places in the world, don't have to deal with tariffs and limits on that trade.

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Here's what would happen to the NHS:

May's Brexit deal
In the government's support-our-deal statement, it promises that the "vast sums of money" currently being sent to the EU will spent on things like the NHS instead. (What a snappy slogan, they should put that on a bus.) But if the government's own analysisthat this deal will make the UK poorer is right, the government won't have as much money to spend on anything. Broadly, the richer people are, the more taxes the gov collects.

No deal
The trade confusion might lead to medicine shortages, while the abrupt end of freedom of movement means the 6% of NHS staff who are EU citizens would be left in limbo. (The NHS is reportedly majorly understaffed, which suggests there aren't enough skilled/willing Brits around to replace EU employees). The government also said they might have to change their spending plans if there was a no deal Brexit. Said spending plans included £20bn extra for the NHS.

Remaining in EU
EU staff working in the NHS would be unaffected; recruiting efforts for EU employees could even be ramped up. But if many more EU citizens come to Britain than would have done without freedom of movement then the result could be more patients for the NHS, which could increase costs and cause staff and resources to be stretched thinner.

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Here's what would happen to LAW & ORDER:

May's Brexit deal
The UK would be bound by EU laws while it's in its transition period. But it would no longer have a say on what those rules are or how they should be changed. The UK and EU will probs continue cooperating on security even after the transition period ends though, especially as even Brexiteers tend to regard it more as a partnership that benefits everyone than an encroachment of UK independence.

No deal
Although Britain is planning to copy-paste most EU laws, it won't have to follow any of them. And the European Court of Justice will no longer be able to tell Brits what to do (the European Court of Human Rights will, cos it's not an EU org). But the UK might lose access to EU security programmes which do useful things like share data about criminals. And UK firms would have to meet EU standards for anything they wanted to sell over there.

Remaining in EU
The UK will have to follow EU laws, even if it doesn't agree with them. (Although that doesn't often happen; the UK has voted in favour of 97 percent of the EU laws that have been passed.) But it'll get to be in the room and join the debate when those laws are made. Before Brexit, Brits were regarded as being quite powerful in influencing EU policy.

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Here's what would happen to GROWTH:

May's Brexit deal
The government's own figures say that Brexit in any form, including this deal, will shrink economic growth(how much more stuff of monetary value a country produces each year). Still, not everyone thinks economic growth is a good thing: common criticisms are that it encourages environmental damage and doesn't fix wealth inequality.

No deal
Almost everyone thinks a no deal Brexit would be really bad for the UK's economic growth. The UK government says it'll make the economy 9.3 percent smaller (i.e. £200 billion poorer). Yeah, hard to get your head around isn’t it - soz, we’re running out of space. But some people say money isn't everything and it's more important to have things like less EU immigrants or control over which laws everyone has to follow.

Remaining in EU
The UK government itself says the British economy will by 3.9 percent bigger after 15 years if it stays in the EU than if it Brexits, regardless of what Brexit deal it gets. So staying in the EU will mean the UK has an extra £100 billion a year to play with by the 2030s. Most people would say we need that money to spend on things like lowering taxes, the NHS, or building more affordable housing.

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