Brexit: The Future Options

Stiff Little Fingers
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Following the referendum in June of 2016, and the UK governments subsequent decision to activate Article 50 in March 2017, the UK is leaving the European Union (the notice under Article 50 is 2 years, so the UK will cease to be a member at 11pm, 31st March 2019), however the terms of the departure are as yet unconfirmed.

Broadly speaking there were three available options on the table when Article 50 was activated.

European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association membership: Regularly referred to as the "Norway option", this would model the relationship that Norway (as well as Lichtenstein and Iceland) have with the European Union. It would involve leaving the EU and joining the EFTA, then gaining membership of the EEA through the EFTA and would allow full access to the single market, without having to sign up to all EU policies like the Common Agricultural or Common Fisheries policies and, in the government impact assessment leaked in January 2018, was deemed to be the least damaging option. However, it would still require the UK to accept the four freedoms (Goods, Capital, Services and Labour), and would see the UK likely taking rules from the EU, without having a voice in the EU parliament and as such is viewed as unacceptable by some hardliners.

Bilateral Trade Deal: Regularly referred to as a "Soft Brexit", this would see the UK negotiate a trade deal with the EU. The terms of the trade deal would be dependant on negotiations with the EU, but would likely involve favourable tariffs with the EU and as such a low impact on trade (including the knock on effect to retail prices). However, it is unlikely this would allow access to the 36 other trade deals that the EU currently has and the UK benefits from as a member.

No Deal: Referred to as "Hard Brexit", this remains the nuclear option. With this the UK would drop out of the EU without any agreements on trade at all, and would be subject to trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, if the UK was accepted as a member of the WTO (currently the UK has no membership and is instead part of WTO through the EU for any countries without a trade agreement with the EU). This would be the most devastating option for the country, as any favourable tariffs would be shredded.

At present the government appears to be aiming for the "Soft Brexit" option, but should be braced for a "Hard Brexit", in the interim at least, as internal squabbles (such as those over the Chequers agreement - a white paper published in July 2018 outlining the UKs proposed relationship with the EU) delay and derail the negotiations.

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