What happens if Brexit negotiations don’t work?

The Atlantic reports: It’s been nearly three months, and three rounds, since Brexit negotiations began, and the parties aren’t far from where they started. The European Union’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier closed the last round of negotiations on August 31 by announcing that neither side had made “any decisive progress” on any of the key issues surrounding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the bloc. His British counterpart, David Davis, was only slightly more optimistic: “We’ve seen some concrete progress. … There remains some way to go.”

Expectations for the third round weren’t high from the start; Barnier opened the talks by admitting: “To be honest, I’m concerned.” The last round, like the one preceding it, aimed at reaching some sort of breakthrough on the three major divorce issues surrounding the U.K.’s exit from the bloc—issues, such as citizens’ rights, the U.K. financial settlement, and the fate of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that the EU insists must be addressed before the parties can move on to discussing trade and their future relationship.

It’s a lofty goal, but one both sides anticipated they could reach by October. Now, the EU isn’t so sure. “The current state of progress means we are quite far from being able to say sufficient progress has taken place—not far enough for me to be able to say to the European council that we can start to discuss the future relationship,” Barnier said.

British negotiators have argued that issues like the Irish border are inextricably linked to both sides’ future relationship, and that making progress on one necessitates making progress on the other. The U.K. isn’t exactly wrong, said Steven Peers, a professor of law at the University of Essex. “The sequencing makes things actually technically very awkward,” he told me. “There are things we can’t discuss in advance of knowing what’s going to happen in the future. It’s just not feasible to do that.”

But no resolution doesn’t mean no Brexit, and with the U.K.’s March 2019 exit date from the EU quickly approaching, neither side has the luxury of endlessly debating the timeline—especially if they want to come to an agreement on the three major divorce issues and finalize a trade deal before the two-year negotiating period concludes. So what would happen if no resolution is reached? Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and a senior fellow at the independent research institute U.K. in a Changing Europe, told me one possible scenario is a “cliff edge” or hard Brexit, in which both parties resolve the three major divorce issues, but fail to achieve a trade agreement. Failure to do either, he told me, would lead to chaos. [Continue reading…]

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