So I just listened to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, say now in Dublin that "if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, let me be very, very clear. We would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as for citizens’ rights and the financial settlement"

So, in other words, Barnier is saying that even if the UK were to leave without signing the withdrawal agreement, it would have to accept the pledges in that agreement, including on the backstop, if it ever wanted a trade deal with the EU.

Now this is what I hate most, this idea that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated simply because the EU says so. This threat of a permanent no deal scenario that seems to scare the living daylights out of Parliament in the UK is the exact behavior from the EU that makes some prefer a No deal brexit to a deal.

So What are the disadvantages of WTO Brexit(Clean Break)?

  • 1
    Please limit the scope of your question. Perhaps ask what arguments remain MPs (i.e. those still against any form of Brexit) have put forward?
    – JJJ
    Apr 8, 2019 at 16:42
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    @Toby pity it's too late for the proper planning and the people responsible have cocked up what little was done, like Grayling's ferry fiasco. The leverage argument falls apart because we don't have as much as the EU does. What do you want, a trade war? And it's not just trade: what happens if "free movement" is ended? In both directions?
    – pjc50
    Apr 8, 2019 at 16:49
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    @Toby no deal Brexit, like universal credit and the PIP reforms and the windrush fiasco, will get people killed. In this case due to medical shortages.
    – pjc50
    Apr 8, 2019 at 16:51
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    I think it is a valid question, but your rather non-neutral language detracts from it: "remain class", etc. And I'm not sure what the roundabout discussion about Barnier's negotiation tactics have to do with your ultimate question. I'm not convinced the British public is more inclined to believe him than their own government, which also made negative economic predictions for no-deal. Apr 8, 2019 at 18:23
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    Technically it's not "because the EU says so" that a solution is needed for the Irish border, it's because of the Good Friday Agreement signed by the UK. My brain still can't process the fact that Brexiteers have nothing to propose (and don't seem to care) about the UK commitment on that matter. The EU merely tries to force the UK to keep its commitment.
    – Erwan
    Apr 9, 2019 at 0:30

2 Answers 2


WTO rules are much less favourable than the deal that the UK currently has with the EU. There would be mandatory tariffs in both directions, forcing up prices. The UK would lose things like EU certifications for aircraft and vehicles too.

WTO rules are designed to be a minimum level on which countries trade, only used in the absence of better deals.

There are also problems with the WTO rules themselves. For a start they require equal treatment for all countries operating under them, and given that the Irish border must remain open it's a problem for both the UK and EU. The EU would not want an open border with a WTO-rules country because it would be obliged to offer the same to all other WTO-rules countries, as would the UK. That threatens peace in Ireland and both economies.

Finally, it's not clear that the UK can actually trade on WTO rules as freely as some people claim. Other members have already lodged complaints over the UK's allocation of EU quotas, and in the event of a no-deal crash out would doubtless lodge more over the open border with Ireland. Disputes in the WTO take years to resolve and can be used as leverage to get trade deals less favourable to the UK.

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    It might be worth inserting the usual footnotes that 1) each side is in charge of setting its own tariffs. So that e.g. the UK could go tariff free for everything to keep cheap food imports from the EU, but then the same would apply to goods from third party countries and 2) Most of the WTO rules only apply to goods, not services, and the UK has a large service economy.
    – origimbo
    Apr 8, 2019 at 17:16

It's because it wouldn't be clean at all - it would leave a lot of messy unresolved issues to be dealt with in an ad-hoc way.

As I explained in this answer, the withdrawal agreement covers:

  • The rights of EU and UK citizens in the UK and EU.
  • The transition period.
  • The treatment of goods in transit on the last day of the transition (they can be exempted from new tariffs, etc).
  • Legal processes begun in EU courts before Brexit/end of the transition (they're still valid).
  • The transfer of social security entitlements (eg, transferring your state pension rights from one country to another)
  • The legal acceptability of goods already in circulation which were approved by regulators in the EU and so previously OK in the UK but would not otherwise be in the future.
  • Ongoing police and judicial cooperation processes at the time of exit (I'm thinking of the European Arrest Warrant, but there must be many others)
  • The revocation of access to and destruction of data from EU-only databases.
  • The rules applying to public procurement processes begun before Brexit.
  • The payment by the UK of contributions to projects the UK committed itself to during its membership, and of things like the pensions of former EU commission staff members.
  • The border with Gibraltar and Ireland and the bases in Cyprus.

It's not hard to see that a number of these could be problematic. Imagine being the owner of goods in transit and having no idea what customs will do with them when they arrive, or starting a request for police mutual assistance whilst having no idea if it'll get part way through and then be rejected. It's even possible that different EU countries will make different arrangements.

To add to these issues there are problems which might have been resolved during the transition period. For example, the EU has unilaterally said that UK lorry drivers will be able to drive their lorries in to the EU to pick up and deliver goods for nine months from a no-deal Brexit (but would have gradually reducing rights to transport goods between different parts of the EU). Once this runs out the default position is that there will be around 2,500 permits and only those lorries will be allowed to do this - a much smaller number than required. Without a further agreement on this the UK could have a problem (and imagine the impact politically if the UK government had to issue large numbers of permits to EU lorries to deliver goods where British hauliers were not allowed).

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