Europe steps up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit

The European Commission daily news briefing in Brussels today, Monday, 15 October, set out their view of the current situation on the Brexit talks and preparations.

Commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, stressed a number of points:

The EU and UK are engaged in a formal negotiation process leading to an outcome.  This is no mere discussion.

Following an impasse on yesterday, Sunday 14 October, between UK and EU chief Brexit negotiators - Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier, no further talks are planned.  There is no expectation of a draft Agreement that can be put to the meeting of EU Heads of State on Wednesday. 

That Northern and Southern Ireland must have a border ‘backstop’ was agreed in December 2017 – and it has been an integral part of the negotiations since them. 

The parties are presently working through the marked-up document on this and all other matters of substance.  Schinas referred to the draft Withdrawal Agreement submitted by the UK in March – later published in its ‘marked-up’ format – highlighted with the reds, ambers and greens that set out the European Commission’s initial response to the proposal.

He refused to speculate on when negotiations would resume or whether sufficient progress could be made to convene an extra-ordinary EU Summit on Brexit in November.

Schinas summarised: “While we are working hard for a deal, our preparedness and contingency work is continuing and intensifying,”

This week’s October EU Summit has, for many months, been the scheduled moment for presentation of an agreed position in the form of a draft Agreement that could trigger the complex process of approvals and ratifications in the UK, the European Commission and each one of the 27 remaining EU countries. 

Theresa May has the after-dinner slot booked for Wednesday - but today’s statement to Parliament confirmed that there are unresolved issues.  May: “I do still believe that no deal is better than a bad deal," However, she added that a negotiated deal is still what she wants to see.

Expanding on this, she said that a "Canada-style" trade deal is not on the table for Britain – and that: “a free trade deal with frictionless trade at its heart" is what her Government is attempting to get”

On the question of the Irish border she said that: “I don't want to see the backstop having to be used at all…What I want is to ensure we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland through the future relationship when the implementation period ends…so that we don't have to see the backstop arrangement being used at all".

Barnier, meanwhile, urged people to “be patient” – emphasising that all parties are determined that the Irish backstop in the deal must be temporary.

The Brussels impasse, however, heightened speculation that the negotiations may not succeed, and that the UK will end up leaving without a deal.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has called for the article 50 process to be extended, saying that a “blindford Brexit” would be unacceptable: “As the crucial vote looms closer, it is time for individual members of the House of Commons to consider what compromises they see as justified - and which are not - if they are to serve their constituents, and the wider public interest.”

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, has said that a Brexit deal could be delayed until December. Speaking in Dublin: “We are at a sensitive phase and I know some people were optimistic about an agreement on the withdrawal protocol this week.  I have to say I always thought that was unlikely, I figure November or December the best opportunity for a deal.”

Behind the negotiations - whether a deal can be reached or not - there are the practicalities of making changes to regulations and procedures, and allowing business and commerce to plan, prepare and implement complex changes in their operating procedures. 

We can only repeat and emphasis from our work with business is that time is needed to prepare.  There is not enough time left for Parliament and the civil service to enact the post-Brexit legislation and regulations for a cliff-edge Brexit in March 2019.  And even when this has been done, business needs months to understand, plan and implement change.

Small wonder that the European Commission is quietly but firmly stepping up its own, and encouraging EU organisations to step up their preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

John ShuttleworthComment