Nigel Farage is pushing for hard Brexit – a rapid severing of all ties between the UK and the EU. George Osborne prefers a soft Brexit – moving at a slower pace to minimise the risk of economic disruption, quite likely entailing an acceptance of some form of ongoing free movement of people between the UK and the EU. Philip Hammond, the man carrying the can for Farage’s push for a referendum and Osborne’s failure to persuade enough to vote Remain in it, is displaying signs of fearing train-wreck Brexit. Under this scenario, we fail to agree terms for the UK’s exit from the EU in the two-year window afforded by Article 50. Neither hard nor soft; just in limbo.
Given that this would only require one of the 28 EU member states to black ball the terms offered to the UK, privileging the capricious whims of domestic politics over economic calm and fidelity to perfidious Albion, the train wreck is not hard to spot. It is generally assumed, though, that the worst that could then happen is that the UK trades on WTO terms with the EU states, meaning that economically damaging tariffs would be paid on goods and services moving from the UK to the continent. It could, however, be worse than that. The UK is only a member of the WTO via EU membership and would, therefore, need to reapply to join the WTO; an application that could be blocked by any WTO member, including Russia, which might make mischief.
Some form of transition arrangements between the UK and EU would help avert this train wreck, which is why Hammond is supposedly sensibly keen on them.