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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives thumbs up during a meeting with fundraisers for the Royal British Legion Downing Street in London on Oct. 23, 2020.

SIMON DAWSON/Reuters

Citizens of the United Kingdom who renewed their burgundy-coloured passports over the past 18 months were in for a shock when they discovered the words “European Union” had been removed from the cover.

They may further be taken aback when they travel to the continent as of Jan. 1 and discover they are consigned to the lane at border crossings designated for people from outside the EU, and can no longer move through the preferred lanes reserved for EU citizens.

Also as of Jan. 1, U.K. citizens will no longer be able to travel to Europe using only basic ID, and will need to carry their redacted passports. And they will lose the right to live, work and play permit-free across the English Channel, unless they have already been doing so for five years.

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In other words, Brits will shortly find themselves enjoying no more privileges in European countries than a backpacking Canadian university student.

These are the known costs of their country’s decision to leave the EU last January. And now, with the transition period leading up to the actual moment of Brexit set to expire on Dec. 31, Britons face the dismal prospect with getting nothing in return.

The U.K. and the EU are said to be close to a deal on trade and a few remaining issues, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly vowed that he will walk away if he doesn’t get the agreement he desires.

Last week, in a theatrical fit of pique, Mr. Johnson announced that talks were off and that the country, which has long feared a “hard Brexit,” should prepare itself for the hardest of all possible Brexits.

Talks resumed again this week after the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, said some soothing words.

But the very fact that Mr. Johnson is willing to contemplate a scenario under which his country leaves an advantageous political and economic union with nothing to show for it, other than the sense of having stuck it to the Eurocrats in Brussels, is mind-boggling.

If no deal happens by the deadline, the U.K. will be left having to trade with EU member countries under the rules of the World Trade Organization. That’s a big step back from decades of open access to the EU. It’s also considerably worse than the “Canadian solution” that many Brexiteers have long talked about.

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Canada has a free-trade agreement with the EU. As things now stand, the U.K. does not. Businesses in the U.K. could be liable for $73.5-billion in new tariffs, according to one report. Mr. Johnson has admitted that sheep and beef producers could face tariffs of up to 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, London’s stock exchanges could find themselves unable to trade many European stocks. Exports from the U.K., and imports from the EU, would be gridlocked at newly tightened borders.

One study, done in 2017, said that leaving the EU without a trade deal and falling back on WTO rules would reduce future GDP in the U.K. by 5 per cent over 10 years.

Britain’s pandemic-stricken economy could use every bit of certainty right now, yet Mr. Johnson cannot even tell his country’s businesses which trade rules they will be working under as of New Year’s Day.

Let’s remember that the U.K. had highly advantageous terms with the EU during its 47-year membership. Among other things, it was able to stay out of the euro, keep its own currency, and maintain control of its borders, while still enjoying the same freedom of movement and access to markets as the 27 other member countries.

And let’s not forget that the 2016 Brexit referendum was won by a Leave campaign built on misinformation. One of its most visible claims, that the U.K. would have an extra $600-million to spend on health care every week after it left the EU, was an utter lie.

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Now the country is just weeks away from the actual implications of the referendum, and it is likely that it will lose far more than it gained, thanks to the government’s inability to negotiate anything that could be considered more than a Pyrrhic victory for the Leave side.

For those who are nostalgic, that includes returning to the iconic dark blue British passport of the past. What a fabulous accomplishment for a movement that vowed to “Take Back Control" of Britain’s destiny.

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