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EU says preparations needed to avoid Brexit no-deal 'meltdown' amid fears of UK government 'volatility'

Officials say they do not know what will happen in talks and are preparing for the worst

Jon Stone
Thursday 19 July 2018 20:18 BST
What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

Brexit contingency plans are needed to prevent a “complete meltdown” if talks with the UK fail to reach agreement by October, Brussels has warned.

The European Commission on Thursday sent all member states guidelines on how to prepare for negotiations failing, while senior EU officials warned that the “volatile” political situation in the UK made the outcome of talks hard to predict.

“We need to prepare for all scenarios,” the official document says, warning of potential major disruption for citizens living abroad, for goods and people trying to cross borders, as well as for businesses and consumers.

Speaking on Thursday one senior EU official said: “I would need to open up some animals and read their entrails to really know what will happen [in talks].

“It’s very unclear, the situation in London is very volatile and I think nobody can tell what will happen with the political situation in the UK now.

“That’s why we have to be very calm and prudent not to pour oil into the fire but try to negotiate as good as possible.

“I am very positive that trains would still run through the Eurotunnel and planes would still land and that we don’t have to expel all UK citizens … because they would be illegal aliens on the first of April. This is preparedness too.

“In any case we will prepare ourselves that things can still can go on and it’s not a complete meltdown, either through a withdrawal deal in place or through preparedness.”

The senior official added that the possibility of extending Article 50 talks if it helped to reach a deal “needs to be discussed” – though any such extension, were to be approved, would be expected to be limited until the European elections in May for reasons of practicality.

The prime minister’s cabinet was last week rocked by the resignation of her chief negotiator and foreign secretary, as well as more than half the ministers at her Brexit department, after the politicians took issue with the direction of policy.

Ministers from the 27 EU countries are set to discuss contingency planning, as well as Theresa May’s Brexit white paper, at a meeting in Brussels on Friday.

The situation in London is very volatile and I think nobody can tell what will happen with the political situation in the UK now.

Senior EU official

The 15-page preparedness notice published by the commission starkly details the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, summarising almost 60 notices the body has already released.

The paper states: “There is no certainty that an agreement will be reached. And even if an agreement is reached, [the] UK’s relationship with the EU will no longer be one of a member state and thus, in a fundamentally different situation. Therefore, everybody concerned needs to be prepared.”

Another Brussels official close to the preparedness plans said: “After the European Council in October we’ll review the situation sector by sector to see what more needs to be done.”

The body says that member states, businesses, and private organisations need to prepare for potential disruption. It praises the approach taken by the Dutch and Irish governments, which have set up websites to allow businesses to answer questions and automatically check whether they are ready for Britain’s departure from the bloc.

The paper warns that there would be no existing legal provision for the millions of British citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in Britain, that there would be immediate border checks and added bureaucracy for organisations. UK service providers would be locked out of EU markets.

It suggests that while the commission could take some steps to mitigate this, countries could also solve problems by quickly making bilateral arrangements with the UK as a third country.

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