What is the EU’s plan for a no-deal Brexit?

Brussels has announced a series of emergency proposals on freight, aviation and fishing if trade talks collapse

Adam Forrest
Thursday 10 December 2020 15:42
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Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

A no-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely after Boris Johnson returned from his Brussels dinner summit having failed to make any progress on a free trade deal.

On Thursday the European Commission published its own emergency planning document in the event the UK leaves the single market on 31 December without any trade agreement. 

“Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities,” said European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen.

So what sort of emergency preparations has the EU done? And what does it mean for travellers and businesses across the continent? We took a closer look at Brussels’ no-deal plan.

Why does the EU need to plan for a no-deal Brexit?

Annual free trade between the UK and the EU is thought to be worth around £750bn. The absence of any free trade agreement would mean businesses on both sides will have start trading on World Trading Organisation terms — a hefty range of taxes on imports and exports.

It will affect everything from car parts to Camembert cheeses, shock financial markets and could sow considerable chaos through supply chains across the continent.

That’s why the European Commission — which is the EU’s executive body — has laid out its “contingency” plans for a no-deal Brexit in a bid to limit disruption as much as possible.

What’s the back-up plan for air travel between the UK and EU?  

Interestingly, the plan contains a series of proposals — including a proposal to keeping “certain air services” between the UK and the EU for up to six months, provided London ensures the same.

It would allow air carriers from Britain to fly across the bloc without landing, make stops for non-traffic purposes and perform scheduled and non-scheduled international passenger and cargo services between points in the UK and points in the EU.

Air safety measures would also continue to be recognised indefinitely, to avoid grounding aircraft.

What about roads, rail and freight?

Without an agreement on the future partnership, there would be “serious disruptions” to freight transport which could threaten public order, the European Commission believes.

Therefore, Brussels is proposing that basic connectivity for road freight and passenger transport (including rail) continue for another six months in 2021 — if the UK confers equivalent rights to EU haulage operators. The measures proposed would also ensure the Channel Tunnel can continue to operate after 1 January until other arrangements have been put in place.

The UK transport secretary Grant Shapps told a travel conference in mid-October that the UK would look to reciprocate any basic connectivity measures announced by the EU — but No 10 has yet to respond in any detail to the latest EU planning proposals.

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen

What’s the plan for fishing rights?

The European Commission has proposed that Britain and the EU continue to offer reciprocal access to their fishing waters until the end of next year — essentially another transition period for the sector.  

The bloc says the measures could stay in place until December 31 2021, or until a fisheries agreement with the UK has been concluded — whichever is earlier. It potentially eases some of the tension around one of the most emotive sticking points in the trade negotiations.

The EU document states: “In order to guarantee the sustainability of fisheries and in light of the importance of fisheries for the economic livelihood of many communities, it is necessary to facilitate the procedures of authorisation of fishing vessels.”

What’s the response? Will the UK engage with any of this?

The EU’s no-deal contingency plan amounts to a series of emergency agreements which could be made if trade talks break in the coming days.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the UK will “look closely” at the mini-deals proposed by the EU if there is no overall agreement.

“Disruption will happen with or without an agreement between the EU and the UK on their future relationship,” the European Commission document states. “This is the natural consequence of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union.”

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