19/12/2018 08:05 GMT

Could We Really End Up With A No-Deal Brexit?

Here's everything you need to know so far.

Some experts (yes, those guys again) believe if you repeat a phrase enough times, it starts to lose all meaning. 

And as Westminster approaches its God-knows-what-number-it-is-now week of Brexit wrangling, it’s safe to assume that belief is building up quite the following. 

A number of key terms centred around Theresa May’s seemingly doomed withdrawal deal have enjoyed their time in the limelight, including the Northern Irish backstop (explained here) and Norway-plus (and here).

But now it’s the turn of no-deal Brexit – that thing that was better than a bad deal, then definitely wasn’t going to happen, then might possibly happen and now looks so likely that 3,000 troops have been put on standby to deal with it. 

So let us take you through the story so far...

What Does ‘No-Deal Brexit’ Actually Mean?

That the UK will leave the EU in March next year without having secured a trade deal – meaning we would automatically fall into World Trade Organization (WTO) trade terms with other member states.

It would essentially mean goods passing over EU/UK borders would be taxed more – particularly things like car parts and some agricultural produce.

Who Wants One?

Most ardent Brexiteers would be happy to see the UK depart the bloc on WTO terms, arguing it would open up more opportunities for trade with other countries. 

The biggest thorn in the PM’s side in this regard is the 40-strong European Research Group of Tory MPs, who have rubbished her draft deal and pushed for a vote of no confidence in her leadership – a challenge she saw off by 200 votes to 117.

What Does Theresa May Think?

It’s complicated. Back in January 2017 (yes, it really has been going on for this long), the PM told EU leaders she was prepared to walk away from negotiations if she was not happy with what was on offer.

Her comments, hailed at the time by Eurosceptics in her party, included assertions that any attempt to “punish” Britain would be “an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe” that her government would not accept.

May said she would rather do “no deal” than one which is a “bad deal for Britain” – a line that was often reiterated, including in a key speech after a summit in Salzberg, in which the PM accused the EU of failing to treat the UK with respect.

However, when she unveiled her draft withdrawal agreement last month after a painstaking and tense period of negotiation, the prime minister made clear that her deal was indeed much better than the prospect of no deal, actually.

What Does The Rest Of The Cabinet Think?

Mixed. While some members of the PM’s top team are fully backing her, others – including Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt and former Remainers Gavin Williamson and Jeremy Hunt, are pushing for a “managed no-deal” as a plan B.

However, Downing Street has poured cold water on the idea, claiming EU leaders wouldn’t countenance it. 

Asked whether such mini-deals would be possible, May’s spokesman told reporters on Monday: “I think what the EU have been clear on is that they aren’t holding those discussions with the UK until after it has left the EU.” 

Doesn’t That Mean It’s Not Going To Happen, Then?

Well, Tuesday saw Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson reveal that more than 3,000 regular and reserve military personnel were now in a state of ‘readiness’ to support government departments to deal with the fall-out of leaving without an agreement with Brussels.

The armed forces plan - swiftly dubbed a ‘Brexit battalion’ - emerged as the cabinet triggered contingency moves to warn families and businesses to brace themselves for a no-deal outcome.

During a lengthy cabinet meeting, the PM stressed to colleagues that her Brexit deal was “our best mitigation against no-deal”, but said that as a “sensible government” it had to plan for “every eventuality”.

With many Tory MPs still opposed to May’s deal, the Treasury is also unlocking an extra £2bn of extra spending needed to help Whitehall departments cope.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he has chartered a dedicated NHS aeroplane to ensure vital medical supplies are flown into the UK from Holland in such a scenario.

So How Likely Is It Really?

Until parliament takes a vote on May’s proposed EU exit deal, the current state of play is so fluid, it’s difficult to say. 

However, betting market monitor Oddschecker currently has the likelihood of a no-deal with the EU being reached before April next year at 5/2.

To add a bit more context, odds on a second referendum stand at 5/4 and the likelihood of the UK actually leaving the EU when the government says we will – on March 29, 2019 – stand at 8/15.

So it seems the best advice we can give in the current circumstances is ‘Be Ready For Anything’.

Good luck.