One aspect that I have not seen discussed in relation to the Brexit negotiations is in what ways a hard Brexit differs from the main aspects of what the UK wants from Brexit in the first place.

Taking a look at the infographic Brexit red lines

Granted that this graphic was produced by the EU, and therefore may be biased, or an oversimplification, but it nonetheless places the wide ranging issues in a nutshell, so is a decent point of reference.

What substantive ways are the UK's position on independence on trade, borders, and jurisprudence separate from a "no-deal" scenario?

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    The unwritten assumption in this infographic is that the shown options are the only possible options. It would be entirely possible to create an arrangement with completely different terms, but whether and how it could happen, well that's the entire crux of the current negotiations. – Etheryte Mar 14 '19 at 14:12
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    @Nit The infographic is expressing the UK red lines and contrasting it with arrangements the EU already has with a variety of nations, to illustrate what kind of relationship is definitely possible. Of course "something else, on as of yet unknown terms" doesn't neatly fit onto an infographic. Also worth pointing out that there are no current negotiations. UK/EU negotations have concluded months ago. Everything that's been happening since has been strictly UK internal. – Cubic Mar 14 '19 at 15:21
  • If you take "UK's position" to mean May's deal (thrice rejected by MPs) then you should read that (or at least clarify your question). Otherwise, who speaks for UK's position?? The UK government's red lines have shifted over time, culminating with the draft deal with the EU. – Fizz Mar 31 '19 at 9:22
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    The chart you posted here dates from Dec 2017 (or older); that is ancient history on the Brexit timeline. If you want an updated one look at informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/… – Fizz Mar 31 '19 at 9:33
  • @Fizz true, but conceptually it should still be (theoretically) sound – Stumbler Mar 31 '19 at 9:34

"Hard Brexit" has been summarized as "Trade under WTO rules". The South Korean and Canadian flags refer to EU trade agreements. The green checkmark means that the EU presumes a similar trade deal can be reached with the UK.

Effectively, that means the UK's red lines do not preclude a trade agreement, while "Hard Brexit" by definition does.

  • Presumably "trade agreement" isn't synonymous with "free-trade"... or is it? – Stumbler Mar 14 '19 at 15:12
  • @Stumbler: No, it isn't. The WTO has multiple classifications of trade argeements, including customs unions, regional trade agreements, preferential trade arrangements and free trade agreeements. – MSalters Mar 14 '19 at 15:15
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    "Hard Brexit" at the time did refer to exiting all EU institutions and entering a trading agreement as a third country, to contrast it with "soft" brexit which would involve staying in CU or even the SM. No Deal wasn't discussed as anything more than a hypothetical back then. – Cubic Mar 14 '19 at 15:18
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    @Stumbler note that the "free trade agreements" and "free trade" refer to "freedoms", specifically they're there to make trading easier. I've seen a lot of people confused about this point assuming that a FTA would grant the same sorts of freedoms the UK currently gets as part of the Single Market and that's definitely not the case (by default anyway). – Cubic Mar 14 '19 at 15:24
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    Hard Brexit does not preclude a trade agreement. – ouflak Mar 14 '19 at 16:06

"Hard Brexit" is not well defined, but generally it means less alignment with the EU than remaining in the customs union or single market as was originally proposed by many Leave supporters and by the official Leave campaign during the referendum.

The UK government's red lines do require a hard Brexit, having ruled out being a member of customs union or single market, so there is no real difference.


If we take "UK's position" to mean the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement (both agreed by May with the EU, but 2-3 times rejected by MPs; the Declaration twice, the Agreement thrice) then this [tentatively] common vision with the EU says:

[23.] The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors, with ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the Parties' objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.

[29.] The Parties should conclude ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment in services and non-services sectors, respecting each Party's right to regulate. The Parties should aim to deliver a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

[30.] In line with Article V of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the Parties should aim at substantial sectoral coverage, covering all modes of supply and providing for the absence of substantially all discrimination in the covered sectors, with exceptions and limitations as appropriate. The arrangements should therefore cover sectors including professional and business services, telecommunications services, courier and postal services, distribution services, environmental services, financial services, transport services and other services of mutual interest.

So they aim for a fairly comprehensive deal in both goods and services. That's perhaps even more ambitious than the deal with Japan or Canada, so call it Canada+ or something like that. Do note that in the jungle of Brexit proposals, the same term has been used to mean something somewhat different

Canada plus plus would mean a hard Brexit and an arms-length relationship with the EU based on reducing tariffs and trade barriers and harmonising regulations. It is attractive to the Brexiters because it would keep Britain out of the single market and customs union. But many Remainers would consider it to be very similar to a no-deal Brexit. It does have the advantage, however, of being supported by the dissenters in the House of Commons – as long as the backstop is not part of the deal.

As one pundit said comparing the multiple Canada+ visions:

Go for Canada-plus

Ardent Brexiters have claimed that May has a simple option. “The PM must go straight back to the EU’s [free-trade agreement] offered by Tusk in March,” said the former cabinet minister Owen Paterson.

This ignores the fact that the EU will only agree a free-trade deal if the UK signs the existing withdrawal agreement, which includes the Irish backstop. When the EU talks of “pluses” in any Canada-style deal, it means other non-trade deals on security, fisheries and foreign policy. When Brexiters talk of pluses, or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Canada, they have been looking for advantages that Brussels has repeatedly ruled out.

The take-home message from this is that the future relation can be reached either by upgrading a no-deal or downgrading from May's Withdrawal Agreement. Those who can't stand the backstop (included in the Agreement) want the path former... or they want something completely different in the long, e.g. UK being unilaterally tariff-free with the world etc.

So I'm largely eschewing what "hard brexit"/"no-deal" means in terms of future relations, since it depends on who's talking and what else they envisage should happen after the event. If nothing else happens, a no-deal Brexit just reverts the UK to WTO rules, in terms of trade. Even this is not a simple affair, because the UK is currently [re]negotiating its (future) WTO schedules.

Finally, the vision from the Declaration has been also called "Brexeternity" because its wide scope would likely mean a huge amount of time/negotiations to fully realize.

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