As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit scenario increases, and the government publishes its “no-deal preparedness” notices, it is worth taking stock of the sheer variety of problems that would arise with a no-deal Brexit – and the devastating consequences that would arise from such a legal limbo. Here’s what we know so far:

The Costly

Administrative headache to drive in the EU
Outside of the EU legislation that makes national driving licenses recognised across Europe, British citizens would have to apply for separate permits in order to drive in the EU (and vice versa). The Post Office may have to issue around seven million international driving licences in the first year, and it does not have sufficient infrastructure to cope with demand at this scale.

Milk, vegetables, fruit and other everyday items would cost more
Consumers will face dramatic price rises because, under WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules, leaving the EU customs union means tariffs will be added to products imported from the EU, ranging from 45% on cheese to 10% on clothing and footwear. The government has indicated retailers would have to stockpile food as delays at the border may lead to dwindling food supplies.

EHIC safety net no longer viable
If you fall ill while in Europe and require urgent medical treatment, your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will no longer be valid. Brits would need to take out costly private health insurance instead.

Broadcasters face massive red tape
To continue broadcasting in Europe, around six hundred multinational broadcasters licensed in London will have to have to seek licenses/relocate to EU countries, since the UK will no longer be a part of the common legal system for cross-border broadcasting.

Fish could be left to rot
If we leave the EU without a preferential trade agreement, WTO rules will apply, to the fish we export to the EU (which is most of the fish we catch!), adding tariffs ranging from 2% on Atlantic Salmon to 20% on frozen mackerel. Moreover, if we leave the customs union, there will be rules of origin and other customs checks at borders, requiring stacks of paperwork and delaying hauliers. And if we fall out of the EU legislation on common hygiene standards, consumer guarantees and so on, there will be further red tape and border inspections. All this could lead to fish rotting at borders before making it to their destination.

Tourism under threat
The EU is the main destination for 75% of UK holiday, leisure and business trips. As travel companies rely on the freedom of movement of staff, resources and financial transactions, dropping out of the single market and customs union could prove disastrous for the sector. Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT UK) has warned that 25,000 jobs will be at risk and the average price of holidays could rise by 31%.

Houston, we have a problem!
Outside of the EU, we would no longer be part of the Galileo satellite project which could spell ruin for the many companies in the UK who were relying on being able to bid for future technological and production contracts. Galileo is the EU’s multi billion euro satellite programme to give Europe control over its global positioning service and increase security capabilities, to which the UK has already contributed over £1bn. Not only would the UK have to wave goodbye to this investment, it would also need to find between £5-8 billion to replace it with its own system.

Lack of research funding on the horizon
Access to the EU’s research and innovation grant scheme, Horizon 2020, could cease entirely. More optimistic scenarios consider that UK universities and research institutes could still bid for some categories of funding, but at least 45% of Horizon 2020 funding would legally no longer be accessible. The UK draws down €1.283 billion per year of Horizon 2020 grants, so even this best-case scenario would cost €577.35 million a year. Many UK institutions rely heavily on these grants and the immediate shortfall could result in a loss of global competitiveness in science and innovation.

The return of “rip-off fees”
Cross-border payments will no longer be covered by the surcharge ban which came into force in January. In the run up to the ban, the government referred to the additional charges added to credit card transactions as “rip-off fees”. They have now outlined in the no-deal technical papers that these charges will return if no deal can be agreed upon, potentially costing UK consumers. In 2015 the cost of these fees was £166 million per year.

Gas and electricity more expensive
Gas and electricity prices would rise as the UK drops out of the EU Energy Market and Euratom, which currently provide the legal basis for smoothly trading electricity and nuclear fuel across borders.

Cost of trade in oil and gas would rise
The oil and gas industry has warned that trade in their products would cost half a billion more per year.

Guinness production stalled
From grain to glass, the manufacturing process for Guiness involves criss-crossing the Irish border several times. In the event of a no-deal, each crossing would face substantial delays and costs.

The Chaotic

Major delays at main ports and on motorways
Additional customs checks at UK ports would lead to major delays and higher costs. Plans are being made to turn the M20 into a lorry park for up to 1,400 vehicles. Costs to hauliers will be punishing; a delay of a refrigerated lorry is estimated to cost around £500 per day.

Legal limbo in Gibraltar
The 12,000 people who travel from Spain to Gibraltar for work everyday would face huge uncertainty over their rights. Gibraltarian locals, 96% of whom voted to stay in the EU, would see cross-border trade hampered, as 96% of all goods enter by land from Spain, and their own services sector would be severely damaged.

The NHS and adult social care could face major staffing shortages
Currently, the NHS in England relies on 62,000 workers from the EU (5.9% of the workforce). England also employs around 95,000 EU citizens (around 7% of the total workforce) in its adult social care sector. A no-deal Brexit would remove the current legal basis for these vital EU  citizens right to work in the UK, exacerbating the staffing crisis in these already stretched sectors.

UK becomes fraudsters’ paradise, retailers lose out on VAT receipts
The government says it is prepared to sacrifice VAT collection at the borders to speed up checks, potentially crippling retailers with an influx of cheaper untaxed goods. This could also mean big losses for the treasury, since in 2017, VAT accounted for 18% of the UK’s total tax receipts.

Chaos for manufacturing
Leaving the single market and customs union will see manufacturers’ supply chains disrupted. Industries such as car manufacturing rely on “just in time” production, so long queues and delays at the border will disrupt production. The automotive industry employs more than 850,000 people directly and indirectly in Britain and accounts for almost a tenth of British manufacturing output.

Chaos for insurance and banking
If UK insurers and banks are no longer covered by legislation that enables them to passport their services across Europe, cross-border financial commitments and transactions will become more cumbersome and difficult, and in some cases impossible. Banks and insurers have warned that unless an agreement is signed, they may not be able to honour £26 trillion of derivatives and as many as 36 million insurance policies.

Organ donor and sperm donor shortage
Leaving the EU legal framework of the Organ Donor Directives and EU Tissues and Cells Directives, would cause delays for people receiving treatment in the UK, as many currently use material from other EU countries. The government’s no-deal technical papers even set out the need for contingency plans to find alternative sources of sperm to replace the 3,000 samples we currently import from Denmark annually (50% of the UK’s male reproductive material imports).

Goodbye Data Protection Regulations
The UK could enter a “data limbo” by dropping out of the EU’s data protection legislation, which allows for the frictionless flow of data across EU countries while securing privacy and safeguards. The cross-border flow of personal data has become vital for the UK as the digital economy has expanded dramatically over the last twenty years and an estimated three quarters of the UK’s total data flow is with EU countries.

The Catastrophic

Consequences for Northern Ireland
A no-deal Brexit could see twenty years of peace in Northern Ireland dangerously undermined. A hard border with the Republic of Ireland, an agricultural economy hit by WTO tariffs, and severing the island-wide energy network could prove extremely damaging to economic stability in the North, and also risk a return to dangerous sectarianism.

Flights grounded across UK airports
Flights between the EU and UK could be grounded if we simply drop out of the European Aviation Safety Agreement and the Europe’s Open Skies agreement which set the rules for the aviation industry, affecting not just flights over Europe, but to the rest of the world.

Enormous job losses in the UK
The Treasury has reported that, under World Trade Organisation rules, Britain could expect to lose 820,000 jobs in the first two years.

Further fall in value of the pound
The fall in the exchange rate of the pound was an immediate economic response to the the referendum in 2016, making imports and foreign travel more expensive. If we leave the EU with no deal, sterling is expected to depreciate by a further 15%.

Nuclear power stations in crisis
Dropping out of Euratom puts Britain’s trade in nuclear materials and the maintenance of our nuclear power plants in jeopardy. The UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation has inadequate resources to cope with the task of regulating the UK’s nuclear industry which leaves question marks over the safety and security of our nuclear facilities.

Shortage of medical supplies
Customs queues will delay and disrupt the 370 million packs of medicine the UK imports from the EU each month. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has laid out plans to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines, at a cost to the UK taxpayer of around £2 billion. He has admitted that in a no-deal scenario, some medicines would need to be flown in to avoid delays at ports, if there are urgent shortages, further increasing costs to the NHS. And the NHS will lose automatic access to the radioactive isotopes required for cancer treatments, currently regulated by Euratom.

UK security put in jeopardy
The cross-border sharing of data and the cooperation between police, intelligence services and judiciary has been crucial in tackling crime across Europe and ensuring the security of the UK. Leaving the EU’s police data sharing agreements and EUROPOL (EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) would leave the UK more vulnerable to organised crime, trafficking and terrorism.

An environmental nightmare
Leaving the EU’s emissions trading scheme and and internal energy market could lead to an increase in carbon emissions from industry and energy sector. Farming could also be adversely affected by the UK leaving the European Environmental Agency; with around 21,000 dangerous chemicals banned in the EU, the UK could become a dumping ground for cheaper and highly dangerous pesticides and chemicals if current standards are not maintained.


  1. Thank you for the thoroughness and clarity of this explanation. Please do all that you can to bring it to the attention of all who can influence opinions (media) or decisions (Parliament, the govt, the Opposition.) Too often, people are not held to account and wriggle out of answering questions of what we can do about this – or why in earth we are still doing Brexit if these are the potential consequences.

  2. What a job, compiling all this information! Let’s hope it proves useful!

    Everyone here (Savoy) seems to be used to crossing from France to Switzerland, or Italy (and vice versa) without any sort of checks. Would British holidaymakers accept with pleasure having their vehicles ordered to park aside at the borders together with those of Turks, Moroccans, Tunisians, etc.?

    • They’d have no choice. Whether they do it with pleasure or not and who they direct their potential anger at may depend on how/if they voted in the referendum.

  3. The people have already voted. Those who voted remain were aware of the dire consequences of exit from the EU. Those who voted to exit were, I’m sorry to say, blinded by their own ignorance and prejudices. Tough as it is on everyone, another vote is wholly undemocratic. The decision has to stand.

      • No it’s not Clare . I was a reluctant Remainer as the EU is sometimes it’s own worse enemy and may well collapse due to massive and increasing levels of Euroscepticism across the continent . Talk of a more Federal Europe from the likes of Juncker and Guy from Belgium who used to be their PM have not done the EU or it’s supporters any favours . I voted Remain in the end as the status quo was the lesser of 2 evils . I don’t support another Referendum for the reason that CT gave . I think the majority of the die hard Brexiters and their mouth pieces in the national press would be in uproar and point out that it ‘ was all an elitist plot to defy the will of the people ‘ and I am not being dramatic to suggest that another Ref could start a Civil War and we could see violence on the streets . I understand the motives of people calling for another Ref and I could change my mind if there is a No Deal scenario and public opinion changes , but I cant see that happening before March .We are just too divided as a nation at the moment . We are heading into choppy waters and dangerous ones when you think about national security and law enforcement co operation being affected . This excellent article is not Project Fear , but should act as a Wake Up call to those wanting a no deal Brexit . All of this because David Cameron wanted to unite the Tory party and bury the Europe divisions once and for all .

        • Wrong it is not undemocratic, now people have been informed it is only right to run the vote again. Otherwise it is not democracy. This is no longer the will of the people, not that it ever was. Sweden cancelled a referendum result because of lack of information, we can do the same.

        • No it’s NOT stupid – 3,000 people per day have changed their minds since the referendum, as shown on numerous survey sites.
          Also, a lot of the uninformed and very elderly will have died, and thousands and thousands more youngsters will now be eligible to vote.

    • Not so. The referendum was corrupt and fraudulent due to the massive illegal overspend on disinformation by the leave campaign, and therefore, neither free nor fair, so not democratic.

    • Nope. That’s hair-shirted madness, not responsible politics. The country could have voted to make Bob Monkhouse eternal ruler, it wouldn’t make it sane or workable. Nor is Brexit. Agree it’s a democratic nightmare to rescind Art. 50 but if it can’t be done without taking food and wages off the table, it’s not really a go-er.

  4. What seems lacking in all this is a recognition that the EU relies more on sales to GB than vice versa. To suggest that only our country will lose out is ridiculous. It is time that EU negotiators took a more constructive attitude,

    • Hi John!
      Should EU change so that UK can remain in the EU? Improvements are probably possible.
      Should EU change so that UK can leave easily? Brexiterrs are joking, aren’t they!
      They want to leave and destroy the EU in the same time, don’t they?

    • I suspect what you mean by ‘constructive attitude’ is something like ‘give us everything we demand so we can appease the ERG’.

      I have a solution, let’s just demand the EU joins the UK instead.

      Only problem is, it’s never going to happen. Same as dropping the backstop.

      PS. There’s a very good reason Tories hate the backstop; it’s because they plan to ignore their obligations to NI as soon as they can get away with it and blame someone else. The EU isn’t stupid enough to trust Tories, unlike many UK voters, hence the backstop stays in place.

  5. An answer to John Hoare’s point, is the simple fact that the UK loses easier trade with 27 countries whereas each of the separate EU economies loses easier trade with one country. It is symptomatic of the debate in the UK to see “The EU” as a single entity and be blinded to differences between the political aspect of the Union and the separate economies of the countries which comprise the Customs Union and Single Market.

  6. I find the outcome of this very disturbing.
    However surely this can not be a one way street I would like another perspective as to how our leaving will affect the European union. will there be any adverse affect on them?

    • So, do you think it would be OK to hurt ourselves as long as our neighbours are hurt as well?
      It would be like chopping our arm off just to slap someone in the face with it.

  7. This devastating catalogue of consequences is factual and accurate. It should be read by all purportedly ‘negotiating’ brexit and pretending that the EU is being ‘mean’ to the UK. The question is why the UK chose to wreck havoc on its citizens and other EU citizens. Dogma over logic and fact?

    Any other vote tainted by fraud would be voided.

    • Good point, Juliet. and what Trade Union would be allowed to do anything significant on such a close vote? Yes/no answers for such a complex question are unworkable anyway!

    • Please explain where the fact is? its not happened yet so it can never be factual until that time, stop scare mongering, we voted to leave so leave will with or without you.

  8. I agree with John Hoare. All the talk has been about how badly the UK will be affected with little attention being given to what the EU will lose. Our negotiators do not seem to have a grasp of using our strengths to achieve objectives probably because they don’t really want out!

    • That’s very true but all that will most likely happen is the cost of EU imports will increase and the cost will be passed on to the consumer. On the whole we buy goods, which we can get from other countries but I’d say consumers are more loyal to a good than they are a service, which is what we export to the EU.

      Take a BMW for example, people who buy them are going to be more loyal than someone using Lloyds of London. Services are also much easier to relocate than the manufacturing of goods.

    • Why should there be any focus whatsoever on what the EU will lose? How is that productive negotiation? Do you really think the EU need us to tell them? “My house burnt down, but hey, you’re toaster’s stopped working, so you’d better help us and come up with solution we like!”

  9. In 2016 the seemingly ruinous consequences of leaving, as summarised clearly here, were not spelled out to us in such detail. It is time to rethink the leave/stay decision, but not in another ‘People’s Vote’ referendum, as the lead-up to this would be another carnival of simplistic hyperbole and much hurling of abuse from both sides. I would like to see the final leave/stay decision made by Parliament. Brexit supporters could hardly complain about this as it would be a wonderful example of British Parliamentary sovereignty – something they said they wanted as an outcome from the Brexit process.

    • Those who wanted to know were fully aware of the consequences. Too many people voted with little or no thought of what the result would be. Unfortunately the whole country will suffer for that apathy.

  10. The BBC must be held to account for its clearly biased, pro-Brexit, pro Government Party line and unwillingness to analyse clearly the real consequences of the pending crisis. Had they challenge the validity of much of the rhetoric made by the sponsors on their tv and radio programmes, Brexit would have been dead in the water months if not years ago!

    • they quite often did – r4 anyway. so much so that the Brexit enthusiasts constantly complain about it. The sad fact is that only a minority listen to R4, and in particular programmes offering serious analysis and well-researched evidence.

  11. It really is time we in the SME business community got off the fence. Brexit will be a disaster and it is time we stated this unequivocally. Jurgen Maier of Siemens did at the time of the ref. Jag-LR did so recently followed by Aston Martin. The Japanese government and chamber of commerce has done so, all the UK automotive industry has, Airbus has, … COME ON, SHOW SOME COURAGE. People are for a people’s vote and it is time business said the same in one voice and stopped putting an impartial face on.

  12. It would seem that project fear is really project reality. The old Great Britain brigade seem to have no grip on the real world, the EU can produce everything that they currently buy from Britain themselves & after the tariffs go on, cheaper.
    So wake up we have nothing they need or can’t make.

  13. They won’t have their Unicorn…
    or nowhere but served on a plate just for one day
    (they’ll have to sacrifice it and eat it as the No Deal hunger strikes)
    2 Kings 6:25-29

  14. There will be No Deal. I stated this in an article published in the Guardian on 14th June.

    For the EU Bureaucracy, and probably most of the member states, the four elements of the Single Market, including free movement of labour, are sacrosanct. In adddition the Irish border question is insolvable. Conference passed a sensible motion on Brexit which holds the party together. However, in my judgement the ‘catastrophe’ is unavoidable (and always has been after the referendum vote).
    Sadly, those of our supporters who voted to leave will now have to learn the hard way not to listen to what the Sun, Mail, Express etc. tell them what to believe.

  15. It reminds me of the time when Mrs Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax.

    I asked a taxi driver what he thought of the tax and he replied
    “well its the Government Isn’t and they got the brains so it must be ok”

    I feel there was similar level of ignorance when the referendum was held.

  16. Coupled to all of the above is the bubbling anger all directed at the wrong people and institutions, and by week one of a no deal this would be tenfold. The whole worry enterprise needs to be scrapped as nothing is better than our present deal within the EU. Everything the ERG and brexiteers want either makes us worse off or we have no say in the agreements, or both. This ideological nonsense has to stop and the public need to be told the truth, this truth

  17. An interesting article to say the least.

    However, as we look down the barrel of a no deal/WTO exit from the EU, your parties leader together with his inner core are helping the Tories push through Brexit.

    If Brexit happens the blame will be equally apportioned to Labour for the leaders failure to fully support Remain in the referendum and the fact he really wants Brexit to happen as he see’s it as his best chance of getting into No. 10, so in reality he is no better than Farage, JRM, Johnson, et al, due to his left wing anti EU Bennite ideology.

    He either needs to step down now, although I can’t for the life of me understand how is still leader after losing the 2017 general election, or absolutely and unequivocally endorse a Remain position as actually that is his best route to No.10.

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