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No deal Brexit would dominate government for years to come

What the PM will need to do to prepare for no deal, and what he will have to do after 31 October if the UK has left the EU without a deal.

With the new Prime Minister committing to leave by 31 October "no ifs and no buts", and the existing barriers to a deal with the EU remaining unchanged, the prospect of a no deal exit is rising.

A new paper from the Institute for Government looks at what the Prime Minister will need to do in the next 94 days to prepare for no deal, and what he will have to do after 31 October if the UK has left the EU without a deal. It argues it could leave very little space for an ambitious domestic agenda.

To be ready for no-deal, PM Boris Johnson:

  • Must kick-start the Government’s no deal preparations immediately – moving thousands of civil servants into operational centres and starting extensive communications to business. Ministers, new in post, should not rip up existing no deal plans and policies.
  • Cannot assume the UK – particularly businesses – are ready for no deal (indeed, they may be less ready for no deal in October than in March).
  • Must bring in legislation to introduce direct rule in Northern Ireland with immediate effect from 31 October if the Executive has not been restored. Other Brexit bills stuck in Parliament are not strictly required until after no deal.
  • Accept there is no such thing as a ‘managed no deal’ and rely instead on EU unilateral measures.

But the paper argues that a no deal Brexit would not be a clean break but would dominate government for years to come:

  • The Union will come under unprecedented pressure – with Northern Ireland most acutely affected by the economic impact and facing major constitutional effects.
  • Major showdowns in Parliament would continue, on the Budget or Queen’s Speech – both due shortly after 31 October.
  • It will drain Whitehall’s capacity – at least 16,000 officials will be working on Brexit by the Autumn and numbers are likely to rise after no deal.
  • The UK would still need a deal with the EU on future trade, but that would be more complex and harder to agree.
  • Struggling or failing businesses will look to the Government for support.

Joe Owen, Brexit Programme Director at the Institute for Government, said:

“Delivering Brexit is the number one priority for the new Prime Minister. But after a no-deal, his problems would not evaporate overnight. Whitehall will still be working flat out on Brexit for months, with many areas of work extending for years.

“Negotiations with the EU would still be required – no less complicated than if there was a deal. Parliamentary showdowns would be inevitable. All his political bandwidth would be spent on Brexit issues instead of the domestic agenda he wants to pursue.”

Notes to editors
  1. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  2. For more information, including data to reproduce any charts, please contact / 0785 031 3791.
Country (international)
European Union
United Kingdom
Northern Ireland
Johnson government
Devolved administration
Northern Ireland executive
Institute for Government

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