An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves a Union flag, also known as a Union Jack, with an European Union (EU) flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

EU Says Taking ‘Very Seriously’ Possibility of No-Deal Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- The European Commission said it is “not taking any chances” in preparing for Brexit as the possibility of a no-deal divorce was seen to increase after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement suffered a historic defeat in Parliament this week.

“We are taking this very seriously now as the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is becoming more possible after Tuesday night,” Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for the commission, the European Union’s executive arm, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. “We have prepared a significant package on preparedness work” in case Britain crashes out of the EU without an agreement, he said.

The commission’s deputy secretary-general is embarking on a tour of the EU capitals to discuss their preparations for a no-deal exit and to coordinate individual governments’ efforts with the EU-wide measures, Schinas said. The commission’s contingency plans focus on “essential and urgent” policies, ranging from air traffic to data sharing to derivatives clearing.

“This is work that is ongoing and it’s developing fully,” Schinas said. “We are not taking any chances.”

Schinas said the commission would not comment on speculation that the U.K. might request an extension of the Brexit process under Article 50 of the EU treaty. James Slack, spokesman for the U.K.’s May, said on Thursday that the EU has raised the issue of extending Article 50 “at official level” with the U.K. Britain responded that “the government’s position is we don’t want to extend Article 50,” Slack told reporters in London.

EU officials “have not received such a request for an extension,” Schinas said in Brussels. “The request would have to set out the reasons for such an extension.”

EU officials have discussed a possible extension of many months but there isn’t complete agreement, according to diplomats. Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal have all floated the prospect publicly in recent days. Poland joined the them.

“I’m expecting the U.K. will submit a motion for the extension of Article 50, and I think it still can’t be excluded as there’s little time till the end of March -- so this should be taken into consideration,” Polish Development Minister Jerzy Kwiecinski said in an interview. Poland would probably accept such a request, which would need to be unanimously approved by the 27 remaining EU nations.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been in contact with the U.K.’s May, Schinas said. “They haven’t spoken, but they are in contact. They are texting,” he said.

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