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Cliff Edge: Is Britain Ready for no Deal?

As we approach the end of the year, the UK’s journey to leaving the European Union is more uncertain than ever.

The negotiations between Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier have been strained and have failed to show significant progress. The key issues of contention from eight months ago when the negotiations began – citizens’ rights and Britain’s exit bill – remain the key issues of contention now. With a third of the negotiating time available now spent, we are still in phase one of the negotiations.

With little progress being made, Theresa May has sought to press the reset button and change tact with a conciliatory speech in Florence aimed directly at European leaders. The Prime Minister addressed the issue of the UK’s financial contribution to the EU, ceding ground to break the deadlock.

With the odds seemingly stacked against the UK being able to secure an advantageous future trading relationship with Europe, attention turns to the prospect of a no deal.

In this document, Portland assembles a distinguished group of contributors to examine what a no deal might mean for Britain, and if we’re ready for it.

First, Chris Davies, a specialist in how organisations succeed in complex environments at consulting firm Korn Ferry, gives us an overview of the issues that should be pre-eminent in the minds of British business and how to plan around them.

Next, a prominent advocate for leaving the EU, Iain Duncan Smith, cautions those who are pessimistic about Britain’s future should it walk away from negotiations with the EU. The former Secretary of State unveils his vision for a global Britain that could thrive, not just survive, outside of the EU.

The experienced former Cabinet Minister Michael Portillo, brings a sobering analysis of the realpolitik, sounding an optimistic tone that the politically savvy in the UK and EU will ensure the eventuality of a no deal is avoided.

The practical realities of what a no deal would mean for trade are outlined by Fergus McReynolds and Namali Mackay of the EEF, the British manufacturers’ organisation. They distil the key barriers to trade that would be faced by British business without a deal in place. In their view, British manufacturing cannot afford a no deal scenario.

Next, we look beyond the M25 for views from Dublin and Edinburgh. The SNP’s International Trade Spokesperson Hannah Bardell MP suggests that a no deal scenario would leave the nationalist Scottish Government weighing up its constitutional options. Tony Connelly, RTE’s Europe Editor, takes the pulse of Merrion Street, where the Irish Government are desperate to avoid a hard border and fervently hoping for progress come the new year.

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s former Foreign Minister, sets the political context for us. He characterises the Brexit process as one that has so far been driven by ideology rather than consideration of the consequences for the country, but paints a picture of a UK Government that is beginning to understand what their commitment to a ‘hard Brexit’ actually means in practical terms.

Finally, Joe Owen of the Institute for Government turns his attention to what British business may see as the unthinkable, and examines the extent of the preparations being made in Whitehall for a fruitless outcome from the negotiations. He applies his forensic analysis to a question that may well be on everyone’s lips by early 2019: are we ready for a no deal?

The likely features of a no deal Brexit are well reported, as is the likely consequence: an increase in uncertainty. Although businesses can’t do much to change that uncertainty, they can start thinking about the contingencies needed for a no deal.

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