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Will Brexit lead to an orderly departure from the European Union?

It's crunch time for Brexit, and negotiations between London and Brussels are at a critical point that will determine whether the UK leaves in a "hard Brexit" or whether disputes over trade can be resolved that will avoid chaos come Jan. 1, 2021. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On New Year's Day, the United Kingdom's divorce from the European Union will be complete. Whether it's an orderly departure or a so-called hard Brexit remains to be decided.

    Hard Brexit would mean no trade deal between the two and economic uncertainty well beyond the effects of the pandemic.

    Deadlines are known to focus the mind.

    And, as special correspondent Ryan Chilcote tells us from London, in this case, they need to focus the future.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Rex Goldsmith always knew severing trade ties with the European Union wasn't going to be clear cut.

  • Rex Goldsmith:

    Messy old business.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    While the waters of the British coast make for some of the best fishing in the world…

  • Rex Goldsmith:

    Lovely Cornish turbot, this.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    … continental Europe buys the vast majority of the fish.

  • Rex Goldsmith:

    I just can't quite work out why we would want to upset our biggest ever trading ally. That's what I don't understand. Before, it was just an open door, all free-flowing.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Even in his London shop, the majority of the fishmonger's customers are European. How much access to its waters the U.K. allows European fishermen to keep is one of the last snags preventing a free trade deal.

    But it's not the only one. The E.U. wants the U.K. to agree to what it calls a level playing field.

  • Anand Menon:

    There's a real fear amongst some member states that having a large competitor economy immediately offshore is a potential risk to the E.U. market.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Anand Menon is the director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe.

  • Anand Menon:

    For E.U. leaders, it's very important that non-membership looks worse than membership. So, actually, they want to make sure that Brexit doesn't get Britain any benefits, because one of the fears is, if being out looks quite attractive, who knows who might be next?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Positions on both sides have been hardening.

  • Penny Mordaunt:

    While an agreement is preferable, we are prepared to leave if we can't find compromises.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The British government says it has the right to take back control of its economy, and that includes control of its waters, laws and borders.

    Wednesday, the U.K. Parliament is scheduled to debate a bill the E.U. says risks reintroducing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

    That could threaten the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to decades of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. President-elect Biden has made clear that deal cannot — quote — "become a casualty of Brexit."

    In a last-minute concession before talks with the president of the European Commission, the British prime minister said removing parts of the legislation that break the law if the two sides can agree a deal.

    Economically speaking, Brexit was always going to come with some pain, a short-term sacrifice, Brexiteers said, for a long-term gain. Then came COVID-19.

    Stores in the U.K. only opened last week, after a month-long nationwide lockdown, the second this year. Still reeling from its steepest contraction in three centuries, the British economy is only just coming back to life. A Hard Brexit won't help.

  • Rob Jukes:

    It's a double whammy of bad news for the U.K. In terms of Brexit, that's going to be a multiyear event. We're not going to know how much damage that'll do or what the opportunities on the other side might look like for many years to come.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The greatest danger of the E.U. and U.K. failing to agree a deal may be diplomatic.

  • Anand Menon:

    And particularly in the context of a new American administration that is committed to trying and rebuilding multilateralism, having two of your closest allies at loggerheads, unable to sit down at the table because we're blaming each other for real economic damage, could damage not just the U.K. and the E.U., but the broader West as well.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Some holiday shoppers said they expect relations with their European counterparts will soon look a little like the weather.

  • Elisabeth Nugent:

    It'll be frosty. I don't think they will ever forgive us.

    There was a lot wrong with it. But you can only change things if you're inside it. And we have just destroyed everything. And, for our children, their world has become small.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Four-and-a-half years after the U.K. voted to leave Europe, we still don't know what's coming next. Time is running out.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ryan Chilcote in London.

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