By Simon Witney Tamasin Little King and Wood Mallesons London, United Kingdom

Simon Witney Tamasin Little The British prime minister has helpfully assured us that “Brexit means Brexit”, but many commentators have pointed out that there are, in fact, different degrees of separation – and some have suggested that the UK is heading for a “hard Brexit”. In fact, it isn’t always clear what is meant by that term: to some it just means that the UK will leave the single market (which has always looked highly likely, given the EU’s insistence on freedom of movement of people as a pre-requisite of membership); to others, it indicates a Brexit without any meaningful trade deal at all, even as regards access to the single market from outside. Perhaps that latter option should be called a “very hard Brexit”, or – as some have paradoxically put it – the “easy Brexit”.

Such a “no-deal” break up would certainly require the least negotiation, and the fewest concessions on either side. And there may be good tactical reasons for the British government to hint that it would be happy with that outcome: as any experienced negotiator knows, letting the other side know that you have a credible and satisfactory alternative to a negotiated agreement – a “walk-away” option – is very important. But in these very complex pre-talk talks, both sides are actually speaking to multiple constituencies simultaneously, and hints of a “no-deal” Brexit risk pushing UK businesses into making firm plans for such an outcome. Those plans may be hard to reverse.

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