No Deal Brexit: What does 'third country status' mean?

14 September 2020, 14:27 | Updated: 14 September 2020, 14:34

The transition period ends on 31 December
The transition period ends on 31 December. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The deadline for Britain to strike a deal with the European Union is fast approaching - and fears of a No Deal Brexit are growing. 

The Brexit transition period ends on 31 December and if a deal is not secured by then, the UK will have to go it alone

In this scenario, the UK would officially be defined as having a “third country status” and would rest on World Trade Organisation terms. 

But what exactly does a “third country” mean? Here we explain the terminology. 

James O'Brien baffled by support for government's Brexit bill

What is third country status? 

The official European Union regulations define a “third country” as one that is “not a member of the European Union as well as a country or territory whose citizens do not enjoy the European Union right to free movement”.

These include nations outside the European continent, such as Japan, the USA and Canada. 

Third countries are by default not subject to the four central freedoms enshrined in the EU - free movement of people, capital, goods and services. However, these rights still apply if the country signs a bilateral free trade agreement guaranteeing them, as Norway has done.

Third countries on the European continent can still be members of the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), so it is not a complete barrier to trade. 

Sir Keir Starmer: Boris Johnson is 'all over the place' on Brexit

How would third country status affect the UK? 

If Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, there will be no pre-existing or legally agreed customs arrangement to fall back on to ensure seamless trade. 

This means it would present a cliff edge for many industries and potentially create a severe economic hit, as it could take years for a new customs and trading arrangement to be negotiated.

While non-EU members Norway and Canada have sealed their own agreements with the EU that keeps goods moving freely, these agreements have taken years to reach. 

The UK also has the additional issue of the Ireland land border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement - which has proved a major sticking point in Brexit negotiations so far. 

Unite, the leading trade union, has warned UK ports will be plunged into “chaos and confusion” in the new year unless post-Brexit customs systems and lorry parks are urgently completed.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Jay Slater's family have shared an image of what is believed to be the last sighting of him

Missing Jay Slater's 'last sighting' in Tenerife: Family share CCTV of mystery figure believed to be teen

Wes Streeting has said Labour would simplify the gender transition process

Labour will 'simplify burdensome and bureaucratic' gender transition process, Wes Streeting says

Hosts of Izmir Wildlife Park

Mother in 'serious condition' after being viciously mauled by wolf pack during jog through safari park


Tory Party not sure if Craig Williams had insider knowledge on election or whether it was 'just a hunch', says minister

Tamayo Perry was killed in a shark attack.

Pirates of the Caribbean star mauled to death by shark while surfing in Hawaii

Debbie Duncan with Jay Slater

'I hope I'm not taking him home in a body bag': Jay Slater's mum feels 'let down' by conspiracy theories about her son

Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport flights to 'run as usual' on Monday after mass cancellations following power cut

Barcelona is set to crack down on Airbnbs

Barcelona announces plans to ban holiday rentals for tourists from 2028

Two murder arrests after body of man pulled from lake at holiday park

Man and woman arrested on suspicion of murder after body pulled from lake at holiday park

Keir Starmer on the campaign trail.

General Election LIVE: Labour to 'simplify' gender transition process as betting scandal puts pressure on Sunak

Heath alert issued for most of England as temperatures set to rise

Heat health alert to be issued for most of England as temperatures to soar amid fears for NHS

Boris Johnson has accused Nigel Farage of a "morally repugnant" repetition of Vladimir Putin's justification for the invasion of Ukraine

Boris Johnson blasts Nigel Farage for spreading 'Kremlin propaganda' over Russian invasion of Ukraine

Hungary's Kevin Csoboth, bottom, shoots past Scotland's goalkeeper Angus Gunn, top, during a Group A match between Scotland and Hungary at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Scotland knocked out of Euro 2024 following Hungary's 100th-minute goal as collision sees star stretchered off

Election betting scandal widens to include 'family and friends' of senior Tories

Election betting scandal widens to include 'family and friends' of senior Tories

Terror in Russia: Gunmen open fire at two synagogues killing six police before slitting priest's throat at Orthodox Church

Terror in Russia: Gunmen open fire at synagogue and Orthodox churches killing 15 police officers

Detective who probed Nicola Bulley offers services to Jay Slater's family as search for teen enters its second week

Investigator who probed Nicola Bulley offers services to Jay Slater's family as search targets remote buildings