EU Ramps Up Brexit No-Deal Contingency Planning

(Bloomberg) -- European Union governments will on Wednesday discuss stepping up emergency preparations in case of a breakdown in Brexit talks, according to a document circulated in Brussels.

Envoys of the EU’s 27 remaining countries will debate contingency planning for a “no deal” Brexit after diplomats agreed that “uncertainty remains about the outcome of the negotiations and the ratification of a possible deal,” according to the document prepared for the meeting seen by Bloomberg.

The Brexit negotiations are reaching their most crucial phase with seven weeks to go before a mid-November deadline and no indication of how the deadlock over the key issue of an unpoliced Irish border will be broken. Even if the U.K. and the EU strike a deal, the need for approval by lawmakers in the British and European parliaments before the U.K. is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019, increases the unpredictability.

European governments believe “preparedness work has to intensify in the months ahead at national as well as EU level,” the EU said in its document.

Red Lines

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that she would prefer leaving the EU without a deal rather than accept a free-trade arrangement with the bloc similar to the one enjoyed by Canada. At the moment, that’s all the EU is offering because it says May’s red lines prevent it from giving the U.K. a closer relationship. It’s also what the hard-line pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party want.

The prospect of May being toppled, calling a general election and the stance of the opposition Labour, whose votes May might need to get approval for any deal, creates still more uncertainty.

Labour has said it will probably vote down May’s deal with the European Union, and is keeping all options open on Brexit including a second referendum with the choice to stay in the bloc.

Contingency Plans

The U.K. has in recent months published a series of statements outlining its own no-deal contingency plans, including the impact a collapse in negotiations would have on aviation safety and on the ability to take pets from the U.K. to the EU.

The European Commission has urged EU governments to step up their own preparations but some countries are taking that more seriously than others. Belgium announced plans to bolster its customs force with drones, dogs and new officers.

“Based on the strong interest shown by delegations, it appeared that a strategic discussion on preparedness and contingency would be worthwhile in order to explore these issues further,” the EU said in its document ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.