Brexit: EU steps up no-deal planning as clock counts down on deadlocked talks

No meetings of top-level negotiators scheduled

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 31 October 2018 18:24
Comments
Workers adjust and clean the logo of the European Commission at the entrance to its headquarters
Workers adjust and clean the logo of the European Commission at the entrance to its headquarters

The EU has stepped up planning for a no-deal Brexit as time runs out for stalled negotiations that could see the UK crash out of the bloc without an agreement.

There have been no signs of progress in Brussels since the meeting of the European Council a fortnight ago, when the EU’s 27 leaders scrapped plans for a November summit to finalise a deal, stating that not enough progress had been made.

With the original October deadline for a deal now officially in the past, officials behind the scenes still remain hopeful that a withdrawal agreement can be struck – though there are few clues to how or when.

Speaking at lunchtime on Wednesday a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters: “I’m not currently in a position to confirm when the next meeting of the negotiators will take place.”

A committee of EU ambassadors, which organises behind-the-scenes heavy lifting, met in Brussels on Wednesday and agreed to organise a series of seminars to work out details of the EU’s response to a no-deal.

The sessions will cover planning for issues such as what would happen to flights between the UK and EU, the protection of citizens’ rights, how border controls would operate, and whether the Eurostar and freight trains could still use the Channel tunnel.

Speaking at the Commission’s headquarters in the Berlaymont building, the EU spokesperson added: “Contact at technical level continues… the Commission will debrief Coreper this afternoon on the latest state of play this afternoon of negotiations. This is just a routine update of the state of play of negotiations. I’ve got no juicy details to give you I’m afraid.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We want to get a deal as soon as possible and agreed in the autumn. We will continue to work with the EU to make this happen.”

Talks remain deadlocked on the issue of the Northern Irish backstop, a policy meant to ensure that no hard border appears on the islands of Ireland under any circumstances.

The EU says new checks will be required on the Irish sea because the UK and EU are leaving the customs union, but Theresa May, under pressure from her DUP allies, has said no British prime minister could agree to them – claiming they are a breach of sovereignty.

In September the UK looked close to agreeing to regulatory – as opposed to customs – checks on the Irish Sea, but a swift rejection of that idea by the DUP appears to have killed it, at least for now.

As a result of the impasse there has been no formal drawing up of an outline of the future trade relationship between the EU and UK, which Britain has been desperate to talk about since talks started over a year ago. Ms May’s Chequers plan, for frictionless trade outside the customs union and single market, was rejected by EU leaders as unworkable.

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