UK says Brexit could mean less warning of falling space junk

It turns out the consequences of Brexit may not be confined to Earth.

The British government said Thursday that the U.K. may get less warning of falling space debris if the country leaves the bloc without a divorce agreement.

The news was one of the more eye-catching items in a government assessment of the disruption to Britain's economy and daily life that would be caused by a "no deal" Brexit.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation EU on March 29, but divorce negotiations have become bogged down amid divisions within Britain's Conservative government over how close an economic relationship to seek with the bloc.

The British government says it is confident the two sides will reach a deal, but has recently stepped up preparations for leaving without an agreement.

On Thursday it published the second batch in a trove of more than 70 papers looking at the potential impact on various sectors of the economy.

The documents disclosed that, without a deal, Britain will no longer receive data from the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking Program, set up to protect satellites and people on Earth from space debris.

The U.K. would no longer be part of the organization or receive its warnings about space objects or debris falling to earth, the government said — though "the U.K. will continue to receive space, surveillance and tracking data from the United States of America."

Labour Party lawmaker Jo Stevens, a supporter of the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said "it is deeply worrying that the U.K. will be shut out of some of the most cutting-edge research in the world."

Prime Minister Theresa May "used to say Brexit wouldn't be the end of the world — but actually it could be!" she said.

The papers also said British drivers traveling to the continent might need to get International Driving Permits if the EU did not agree to recognize U.K. licenses. British cell phone users might have to pay roaming charges, abolished in the EU.

The assessments also warned of major disruption for tech firms. The government said British firms won't be able to bid for work on the EU's Galileo satellite navigation program if there is no deal, and "may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts."

A no-deal Brexit would also disrupt the transfer of personal data between Britain and the EU. The government said Britain would "continue to allow the free flow of personal data from the U.K. to the EU," but there is no guarantee the EU would allow data to be transferred in the other direction.

Business groups said the papers showed that no-deal Brexit would mean a mountain of red tape.

Carolyn Fairbairn of the Confederation of British Industry said that "extra costs, duplication of certification and interruptions to data flows would damage the economy, with a knock-on impact for living standards."

The first batch of papers, released last month, said businesses could face red tape at the border, while customers could see higher credit card fees and patients could endure delays to medical treatment. There was even a warning that there could be a shortage of donor sperm if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the government was being honest with the public.

"In the event of a no-deal scenario, which is not what we want, we would face short-term risks and short-term disruption," he said.

But he added that the government had plans in place "to manage those risks, avoid them where possible, or mitigate them."

Raab also warned the EU that Britain would withhold billions of euros (dollars) of a promised divorce payment if there is no Brexit deal. Raab said in that event the U.K. would pay "significantly, substantially" less than the agreed-upon 39 billion pounds ($51 billion).

"It's not a threat and it's not an ultimatum, it's a statement of fact," he said.