The British parliament broke with tradition and sat on a Friday to continue debating the EU withdrawal bill. Westminster must decide whether to accept May’s plans for a structured exit and relatively close economic ties, or reject it and spawn massive uncertainty over the country’s next steps. Support for May’s agreement with the EU is low. With the 29th of March deadline fast approaching, a no-deal Brexit is looming.
If the withdrawal agreement is signed, at the end of March the UK will begin transitioning out of the EU. This means that most things will remain as they are now until December 2020, to facilitate negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
However, if the UK does not agree to sign a withdrawal agreement, then there will be no adjustment period. This would end all the regulatory links the UK has to the EU and each of its member states. A no-deal Brexit will leave the UK and those who wish to trade with them subject to World Trade Organisation rules immediately.
This would be chaotic and carries considerable risk for Ireland. Every industry in the country will be affected. The Department of Finance calculated that a hard Brexit may lead to Irish GDP dropping 4.5 % over the next ten years with a loss of 40,000 jobs.
In a no-deal Brexit, experts believe the EU would have no option but to reimpose a hard border in Northern Ireland, to conduct checks on goods entering the EU market and, crucially, control smuggling. This would be catastrophic for those living in Border towns and there are fears it could restart sectarian violence.
This week Theresa May’s deputy warned that the risk of Northern Ireland leaving the UK in a no-deal Brexit is very real. Cabinet Office minister David Lidington talked about the escalation that is occurring in Northern Ireland. He told the cabinet “moderate” Nationalists are becoming more “hard-line” and questioning Northern Ireland’s constitutional status in the UK.