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Sectors that will be hit by a no-deal Brexit



A ‘no-deal’ exit from the Brexit transition period on January 1 will plunge the UK into a world of uncertainty as Boris Johnson pulls the plug on nearly 30 years of EU single market membership overnight. 

Here, a team of FT writers and specialists looks at consequences that are likely to flow from such a decision in nine sectors — from food to financial services and travel to medicines. 

The currency

The first impact — which is likely to precede the January 1, 2021 departure date — is a sharp fall in the value of the pound. At its most extreme, analysts predict it could lose more than a fifth of its current value against both the dollar and the euro if talks break down irrevocably. 

Opinions differ on how low sterling could go. Jordan Rochester, a currency strategist at Nomura in London, predicts the pound could sink to near parity with the dollar, while Paul Robson, head of G10 currency strategy at NatWest Markets, is more optimistic, betting the pound may fall “to the low $1.20s”.

Leaving without a deal would most likely give UK government bonds — known as gilts — a boost as investors seek a safe-haven, allowing the Treasury to borrow even more cheaply than it can currently. 

Eva Szalay and Tommy Stubbington

The City 

The financial services industry — the UK’s largest services export — is likely to weather the initial storm of a WTO-terms exit since it has been preparing for several years to leave on ‘no-deal’ terms.

The City has tried to prepare itself © REUTERS

Many companies have already set up legal offices in the UK and EU to cater to local customers and have begun moving people and business. Some more relocations would likely be triggered by a hard rupture.

But no deal still jeopardises agreements to manage cross-border activity, from trading shares and derivatives to sharing data. How much business will leave London in the longer term is unknown.

Philip Stafford

Ports and borders 

Under the government’s published ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’, up to 7,000 trucks could stack up on the motorways outside Dover and other Channel ports, with delays of up to two days. 

Dover could be hit by long queues © AP

The government is expected to do everything it can to prioritise traffic flows on goods coming from Europe, but UK officials fear that queues will still form as a result of “blowback” from the EU’s decision to bring in full border controls from January 1. 

How long this will take to settle down is not clear. The government has warned that queues could last from three to six months and has plans to reroute traffic and deploy large numbers of portable toilets to the roadsides to cater for stranded drivers.

Peter Foster


UK travellers to the EU will feel some of the most obvious consequences of no deal, although the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 measures could mask these changes initially.

Covid curbs could initially mask no-deal repercussions © FTgraphic/PA

Unless deals can be rapidly agreed with the EU, drivers will need to obtain an international driving permit and get a physical copy of their ‘green card’ proof of insurance document from their car insurers. UK citizens will face longer queues at passport control as they use lanes for non EU-EEA passengers. Controls will also be stricter on bringing pets into the EU. 

Brussels has announced unilateral steps to keep planes flying, but some problems may be experienced with flight connections. Travellers will also need to obtain travel insurance since the EHIC card that offered reciprocal care in EU countries will no longer be valid. The UK government was trying to negotiate a new reciprocal scheme, but it is not clear how lack of a deal will affect this. 

Jim Brunsden, Peter Foster

Food supplies

A no-deal Brexit would lead to immediate food price inflation and shortages of some — mostly perishable — products in the supermarkets, say industry analysts. 

Food price inflation would be immediate if tariffs are imposed © REUTERS

Tesco predicts that tariffs imposed on January 1 will cause price rises for most EU goods, pushing up consumers’ overall food bills by 3 to 5 per cent. The government disputes this. The price of butter, which is mainly imported, will rise, while speciality cheeses such as feta will cost as much as 55 per cent more, according to the London School of Economics. 

Analysts have stopped short of predicting overall food shortages, but imports of fresh produce will face delays caused by EU checks. The UK relies heavily on European fruit, lettuce and tomatoes in January, and risks these products being left to rot at the border. At the same time, a collapse in lamb exports caused by tariffs is likely to lead to a domestic surplus.

Judith Evans and Emiko Terazono

The car industry

Few industries are as exposed to cross-border trade as the auto industry. It expects prices to rise for consumers even if sterling drops, as cars and their components face up to 10 per cent tariffs after Brexit.

The car sector is particularly exposed to cross-border trade © Bloomberg

More than 1.5m cars are imported to the UK in a typical year, while even those cars built domestically contain huge numbers of parts from across Europe. The industry has also warned it will be more difficult for the UK to attract electric cars, with manufacturers in Germany and elsewhere diverting their limited stock to more profitable markets.

Longer term, industry analysts warn that consumer choice is likely to dwindle if the government sets up its own standards and certification regime that may make it too costly to bother registering some models in the UK. 

Peter Campbell

Research and education

Leaving the EU without a deal would end UK involvement in the €80bn Horizon programme of research funding and collaboration, which could dent the ability of universities to do groundbreaking research in areas including science and medicine. The UK government and research organisations have said they will try to negotiate to secure a future relationship with Horizon even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The €80bn Horizon research collaboration project could be hit © Getty Images

The future of the Erasmus student exchange programme is unclear whether or not a deal is struck. Existing students will still be able to participate, but the government has said it will fund a UK global student exchange programme to replace Erasmus if it decides to end British participation.

Bethan Staton

Medicines and pharmaceuticals

Pharma leaders in the UK and mainland Europe are unanimous that patients will face the risk of delays to obtaining vital medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Without a “mutual recognition agreement” accepting the validity of each others’ safety testing regimes, pharmaceutical trade bodies on both sides of the Channel have warned of delays of up to six weeks in obtaining medicines for patients.

Delivery of medicines could face delays © Getty Images

In the short term, the UK government says it has taken contingency measures to avoid medicine shortages. The department of health has created a stockpile and instructed pharma companies to keep back six weeks’ worth of supply in the UK.

Sarah Neville

Northern Ireland 

The protocol to keep open Northern Ireland’s 310-mile land border with the Irish Republic will continue to apply in a no-deal scenario, protecting the Good Friday peace agreement that ended the conflict in the region. However, arrangements to create a trade border in the Irish Sea could come under pressure.

The Good Friday Agreement will be at risk © AP

Even with the temporary measures agreed with Brussels this week to reduce border disruption, the imposition of full WTO tariffs between the EU and the UK will put a strain on the agreement that all goods flowing into Northern Ireland from Great Britain must follow EU customs rules.

Some hardline Brexiters could also use a no-deal exit to renew demands to drop the protocol entirely, damaging the Good Friday Agreement and threatening trade talks with US president-elect Joe Biden, who strongly supports the peace pact.

A no-deal could also destabilise the region’s devolved executive which is led by the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionists and remain-supporting Sinn Féin Irish nationalists.

Arthur Beesley

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Ransomware attacks rise despite US call for clampdown on cybercriminals




Ransomware updates

In mid-June, US president Joe Biden held talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss a recent scourge of cyber attacks against the US, including by Russian-based criminal ransomware hackers. 

Biden has said he told Putin in no uncertain terms that “certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to cyber attack — period”. Nevertheless, data show that ransomware attacks continue apace, including in sectors such as healthcare and education. It is unclear whether Biden will take further action in light of this. 

Ransomware, which usually involves hackers seizing an organisation’s data or computer systems and only releasing access if a ransom is paid, has long plagued businesses large and small. The first known ransomware virus, PC Cyborg, was recorded in 1989, with victims infected via floppy disk and told to send a $189 cheque to an address in Panama.

Today, these financially motivated hacks are far more sophisticated — and are proliferating fast. Attacks have quadrupled during the pandemic, SonicWall data show, partly because the shift to remote working has left staff more vulnerable than if they were connecting to more secure corporate networks. 

Chart showing that ransomware attempts reached an unprecedented level in 2021

Additionally, hackers have swapped demanding cheques for requesting hard-to-track cryptocurrencies, meaning that as the price of bitcoin has risen during the past year, the business of ransomware has become all the more lucrative. It is also easier to launch attacks with little to no technical knowhow, given the growing market for “ransomware-as-a-service”, where hackers maintain their ransomware code but rent it out to others and take a cut of any extortion payouts. 

While known attacks have reached unprecedented levels, the story of what we do not know — given that there are few rules around disclosure — may be far worse. Earlier this week, Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI Cyber Division and other cyber agency officials called for mandatory reporting rules around attacks, so that accurate data can be gathered and analysed by the US government.

Chart showing the median size of companies targeted by ransomware (number of employees)

Small businesses with little spare resources have tended to be the hardest hit by ransomware attackers. But the matter was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year after several audacious attacks on critical infrastructure such as the Colonial Pipeline, which led to fuel shortages for several days on the US east coast, the Irish health system and Brazilian meat supplier JBS. All of these attacks were believed to originate from Russia-based ransomware hackers, although the US government has accused Chinese state-backed groups of also orchestrating attacks.

The number of ransomware gangs stretches into the dozens and continues to proliferate as the economics remain so profitable. Vorndran said the FBI tracked 100 gangs, using an algorithm to rank them and the effect that each has on the economy. The largest one rakes in an estimated $200m a year in revenues, he said.

Chart showing that ransomware demands can often be negotiated down

To help victims fight the gangs, a cottage industry for “ransomware negotiators” has emerged. These middlemen are tasked by victims with haggling down the ransom payments. As go-betweens, they also collect data on attacks, learning the playbooks of various groups in order to best know how to speak to them. 

According to data from Coveware, the average ransom payment has fallen in the second quarter to $136,576, from more than $200,000 in the first quarter, amid an emergence of smaller ransomware groups. But in the majority of attacks — about 80 per cent — hackers are using the newer tactic of threatening to leak data as extra leverage in extorting victims. About half of these “leak threat” victims paid out in the second quarter, Coveware said.

Chart showing publically reported ransomware attacks on US healthcare, public, state or local government and schools, by month

Unfortunately, the negotiators’ services continue to be in high demand. According to data on reported attacks collated by Recorded Future, in the US there have been 10 attacks on healthcare, nine on schools and 10 on public state and local government groups during June and July this year. Despite Biden urging Putin last month to crack down on the criminal groups and warning against attacks on 16 critical entities, attacks on many of these key sectors have continued.

“The volume of targeted attacks on government organisations and enterprises that impact civilians, countries and the global economy will not end without a change in approach,” said Bill Conner, the chief executive of SonicWall.

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France delays EDF reforms after failure to agree terms with Brussels




EDF updates

France has been forced to delay the restructuring of state-owned utility EDF after it failed to agree the terms with the EU, a setback to a major economic reform promised by President Emmanuel Macron.

“Significant progress has been made in our discussions with the European Commission, but to date we have not reached an overall agreement,” said a government official. “Therefore it is not possible to submit a draft law to parliament if the principle points of the reform have not been agreed to in advance.”

Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF chief executive, on Thursday declined to provide a specific timetable for when the reform could be completed, but analysts said it would likely prove difficult at least until after the French presidential elections next April.

“I regret that this reform that is indispensable to EDF cannot happen now,” said Levy. “Our short term [prospects] are guaranteed, but our medium and long term are not if we want to play in the big leagues, which is what is expected of EDF.”

Dubbed Project Hercules, the planned overhaul of EDF was meant to give it the financial firepower to invest in both nuclear and renewable energy in the coming decades.

An important element would be changing the mechanism and regulated prices at which EDF sells nuclear power, which provides 70 per cent of France’s electricity. France wanted to push through higher regulated prices for nuclear power, so EDF could pay down heavy debts and absorb the high costs of maintaining its nuclear reactors.

But Brussels would have to approve such a change because of its remit to ensure free competition in the energy sector and to prevent member states from unfairly bailing out companies.

The plan would effectively split up EDF by creating a government-owned mother company, EDF Bleu, containing the nuclear assets as well as a hydroelectric subsidiary. Another subsidiary, EDF Vert, would house renewable assets, the networks and services businesses, and would be publicly listed with about a third sold to raise funds to boost EDF’s green energy investments.

Macron has argued that the changes are vital for EDF to flourish and keep up with rivals. Given that France owns almost 84 per cent of the group, the government had also hoped the reforms would lighten the state’s financial burden.

But the overhaul has been caught in wrangling with the commission. Le Monde reported that the key sticking point was how the relationship between the newly created entities would work and whether cash could freely flow between them as if the company were still fully integrated.

The French finance ministry, which has piloted the talks, and the Elysée Palace declined to comment further on the details.

EDF’s powerful labour unions had opposed the plan as a prelude to the group being broken up or privatised, and have also raised concerns that it would pave the way for nuclear energy to be marginalised.

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“We celebrate the knockout punch delivered to Hercules,” the far-left CGT union said. “The only aim of these manoeuvres is to pull off juicy financial transactions at the expense of consumers and EDF employees.”

EDF shares fell as much as 4 per cent on Thursday as the reform’s failure overshadowed strong second-quarter financial results that showed the utility rebounding as economic activity picked up despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barclays analysts wrote in a note that investors were being too pessimistic on the outlook for the reform even if its timing was hard to predict.

“We continue to believe that ultimately there will be an agreement between the EU and France on EDF’s reorganisation.”

Additional reporting by David Keohane

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EU economy chief urges end to ‘muddling through’ with budget rules




EU economy updates

Brussels cannot afford to carry on fudging the application of its own fiscal rules to blunt their negative impact, the EU’s economics chief said as he called for a far-reaching legislative overhaul to help drive stronger public investment and growth.

Paolo Gentiloni said he wanted “renewed and reviewed” EU budget rules that would provide an incentive to public investment in the green and digital transitions, while fostering stability and durable economic growth.

“It is clear we cannot simply go back to normal,” Gentiloni said in an interview with the Financial Times. “You need common rules that are connected to the economic challenges we have. Otherwise, the risk is that the European Commission will spend the next decade finding creative ways to bypass its own rules, which I think is not the best solution we can have.”

The commission is due to restart this autumn a consultation on how to amend the rules surrounding the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). The budget framework is currently suspended because of the Covid-19 crisis, but the rules are likely to be reimposed in 2023, and there will be a fierce debate ahead of that over how they should be reformed.

Janet Yellen, US Treasury secretary, this month added her voice to those arguing that the SGP restricts governments’ latitude to battle downturns as she called for the EU to reinforce its stimulus efforts. But fiscally conservative northern European member states will chafe against efforts to substantially loosen the rules, reigniting a north-south divide over economic policy.

Gentiloni said he did not see it as the commission’s role to question the EU treaty, which contains the basic goals of keeping public debt at 60 per cent of gross domestic product and deficits to 3 per cent. But he said he wanted the commission to propose reforms to legislation as it seeks to reflect post-pandemic realities, including the surge in average eurozone public debt burdens to 100 per cent of GDP.

He questioned whether the bloc should return to a “‘low for long situation’ — low inflation, low growth, low interest rates? Or should we try to use this crisis . . . to try to have stronger and more sustainable growth?”

He supported several changes, including adjusting the rules governing the mandated path for bringing down public debt ratios, which under the current framework would entail deep and punishing reductions following the debt blowouts over the past year.

The changes would entail a shift to more “simple and observable” criteria to manage fiscal policies, he said, referring to a suggestion from the European Fiscal Board, a commission advisory body, for a budget policy set according to an “expenditure rule” setting a ceiling on the growth rate of nominal public spending.

In addition, the rules would need to be changed to provide an incentive to public investment. This would help avoid repeating the aftermath of the financial crisis, when net investment drifted rapidly lower, stymying growth.

One idea is a “golden rule” excluding some specific growth-enhancing expenditure from the ceiling on spending growth, but Gentiloni stressed he was not wedded to that specific concept. “There are a lot of possible solutions, proposals, if we recognise the need to encourage, to strengthen, public investment in certain sectors.”

To “muddle through” with the budget rules might have previously seemed reasonable, Gentiloni said, but he argued that given the circumstances, legislative changes would be needed. “This is the only way to have real common rules, and not just common rules that are there to be bypassed,” he said.

Gentiloni reiterated the upbeat short-term economic outlook he offered this month when the commission published forecasts predicting the strongest growth in decades, with an expansion of 4.8 per cent this year and 4.5 per cent next.

While the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant presented a “downside risk” to growth, he stressed that the current situation was far more propitious given the rapid rate of Covid vaccinations. The EU, he pointed out, had caught up with the adult vaccination rate of the US.

“We know very well we’re not out of the woods. At the same time we should be very clear we’re in a different situation from the one last summer and the difference is caused by vaccines and vaccination,” Gentiloni said.

Indicators of individual mobility, and the stringency of lockdown measures, continued to point to a recovery “with speed”.

“I think the recovery will proceed. All in all our brighter forecast is still supported by what we see on the ground,” he said.

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