The door has opened and the exit sign is flickering at the end of the room. Before exiting the room, a letter is being written. It begins with “Dear Donald Tusk, the time of the UK’s official notification to leave the UK has arrived. Kindest Regards, Theresa May.” The room is too small now and despite its familiarity, the people want to experience what lies beyond. Brexit feels very much like this: leaving the comfort of the familiar and entering the unknown and the unfamiliar. But what makes it increasingly stressful and uncertain is the urgent realisation that it is possible to leave the EU without a deal.  

“No deal is better than a bad deal”

Theresa May has been saying that leaving without a deal, instead of agreeing to a bad deal, is not such a negative outcome. But the Brexit negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, has been less positive about not reaching a deal, warning that the consequences would be grave and that “A no deal scenario is not what we want.” He also emphasised unity and not division during the talks: “I want to say this to our British partners, and I know some of them are in the room. At the end of the day we both need a united Europe to reach a deal.” 

Many argue that Barnier’s decision to be open about Brexit and the upcoming negotiations was an attempt to show the UK people that leaving the EU without a deal and falling back to World Trade Organisation rules is a dangerous alternative. 

Jean-Claude Juncker also called Brexit a “tragedy”, but reasserted that certain commitments would have to be kept: especially when those involve billions. 

No trade deal within two years

Barnier clarified that there won’t be any negotiations on a free-trade deal during the two years of discussions, but he said he would be open to discussing a transitional deal after the UK triggers article 50. A free-trade deal would require approval from all the 27 member states and that would take time, despite the UK government’s claims that such a deal would be struck within two years.

According to the Guardian’s sources, MEPs are insisting on the impossibility of a trade deal being signed before the two years. It will be something that can happen after that period and it would require the European court of justice’s authority to interpret and enforce the withdrawal agreement. 

UK government less resilient on leaving without a deal

As the realisation of leaving without a deal is sinking in, the British government is slowly moving away from such statements, European diplomats in the UK have claimed. According to the Guardian, diplomats say that UK officials now realise the “havoc” of “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal”. An ambassador said: “They [British ministers] have realised that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ won’t fly. They are worried about people in this country who have an ideological and political intention of creating chaos. The civil service have told them it would create havoc.” EU diplomats are worried that Theresa May is trying to satisfy Tory backbenchers, Brexiteers and the Brexit press by promising things she cannot deliver. 

The diplomats have also pointed out that the UK will possibly soften its position on immigration after realising the negative impact it will have on the economy. 

According to the Guardian’s source, the diplomats stressed that the EU won’t be raising the issue of a bill and that money is “peanuts in the big picture”.

In a Financial Times article, titled “Over-Optimistic ministers manipulate the Brexit debate”, Janan Ganesh criticised the three men in charge of Brexit: Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis. Ganesh argued that they are lacking in competence, and “It hurts” to know that David Davis is considered by diplomats “well-briefed next to Liam Fox, whose trade portfolio is a phantom thing until Britain leaves the EU, and Boris Johnson, who has not let his rise to foreign secretary disrupt his work as a jester for the kind of Tories who laugh when a bird lands on centre court at Wimbledon.”

Ganesh explained that their failure to prepare for Brexit has resulted in their attempts “to normalise the idea of total exit without a trade pact.” Johnson promises that it would not be “by any means as apocalyptic as some people like to pretend” and Davis that it would “not [be] harmful”. Economists have a different opinion, but Brexiteers are allowed a certain measure of optimism. 

European parliament will fight against any Brexit deal that prohibits free movement

One of the biggest issues for the EU is guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, particularly, those moving in the next two years. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and other MEPs discussed on Monday the specific concern since it is understood that after the 29 March, free movement will be restricted, or the rights of new EU nationals would be different than the ones already residing in the country. A resolution has been prepared by Barnier and MEPs that will guarantee the rights of EU nationals arriving in the UK after 29 March. 

Gianni Pittella, president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second largest political group in the European parliament, expressed his discomfort with a system that allows certain EU citizens to have rights and others not, saying that “It cannot be right that someone signing a work contract in the UK on Tuesday has more rights than someone signing a contract on Thursday.” He added: “We have heard that Theresa May is considering a cut-off date as the notification date. We completely disagree on this and we believe that the British citizens and those from the other 27 states are EU citizens until the day of the divorce. During this period the UK is a member state with full rights and obligations.”

Pittella stressed both the EU and UK’s common interests in sealing a deal that is fair and represents the rights of all citizens. He said: “We will not allow Theresa May to deliver a hard Brexit for EU citizens. If we don’t insist on the rights of workers in the UK, then I am afraid the UK’s health service will collapse, given the number of EU nationals who are working as nurses. So there is a common interest here.”

James Dyson said it would be fine

While economists and EU officials warn that it won’t be to anybody’s interests if the EU and the UK arrive at no trade agreement, others have been more positive and laidback. Apart from the trio of optimistic Brexiteers, billionaire inventor and investor James Dyson said that a hard Brexit would not affect the economy because WTO tariffs had done wonders for him. But others have already taken matters into their own hands by moving their staff out of London. Goldman Sachs is beginning to move hundreds of employees to Frankfurt and Paris. 

For the people who voted Brexit, the urgency of abandoning the familiar space of the EU, is even stronger now, whether there is a deal or no deal. Brexit was a promise, and as a promise needs to be kept. Whether it is a good promise, advantageous to all the people that so desire it, would only become obvious in time.