EU offers UK soft landing with post-Brexit contingency plans

File photo. Lorries arrive in Dover port in Dover, Britain, 31 July 2018. Reports state Dover, but also Calais in France may face serious economic problems due to Brexit. [Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/EFE]

The European Commission tabled contingency measures on Thursday (10 December) to ensure basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the EU and the UK, and mooted the prospect of temporary reciprocal fishing access by vessels to each other’s waters, as both sides started preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Warning that there is “significant uncertainty” about whether a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal will be in place by 1 January, the EU executive said that the contingency measures should cover the period during which there is no agreement in place.

A growing number of voices are suggesting that, with the two sides seemingly unable and unwilling to budge on their red lines, talks could be paused for six months or one year, with a series of mini-deals for individual sectors to mitigate the disruption that a ‘no deal’ would cause.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement that saw it leave the EU in January, the UK will trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms from 1 January if no new trade deal is ratified this month.

The EU provisions would cover basic air and road freight and passenger transport between the UK and the EU for 6 months, with the EU continuing to recognise UK safety certificates and other regulation, providing that the UK reciprocates and offers EU firms “fair and equal opportunities”.

The condition of reciprocity is similar to the EU’s demands in the trade talks that the UK stick to the so-called ‘level playing field’ on regulatory standards.

The Commission has also tabled a proposed law to give reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters until the end of 2021.

However, questioned by reporters on Thursday, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to be drawn on whether London UK would agree to the Commission’s conditions on fisheries, stating that “we would never accept arrangements and access to UK fishing waters which are incompatible with our status as an independent coastal state.”

The prospect of the two sides failing to agree and ratify a post-Brexit trade deal by the end of the year appears to have increased in recent days, with both sides setting a Sunday deadline for a decision on whether a deal can be obtained this month.

Following three hours of talks over dinner between Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday evening, the two leaders conceded that ‘big gaps remain’ between their respective positions.

EU leaders will be briefed about the talks on Thursday evening at a European Council summit in Brussels.

But some compromises have already been found. On Tuesday, the two sides agreed a compromise text on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol that governs the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the presence of EU officials in Northern Ireland from 1 January.

Under the deal, Johnson’s government has promised to drop clauses in its Internal Market Bill, currently under discussion with UK lawmakers, that would have broken the terms of the Protocol.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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