Countdown to Brexit: 12 days – European Union urges all citizens and businesses to complete their ‘no-deal’ preparations by 12 April

Brussels has responded to a threat judged as: “increasingly likely that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal on 12 April.”

Following the third defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons on Friday, the European Commission is urging: “all EU citizens and businesses to continue informing themselves about the consequences of a possible ‘no-deal’ scenario and to complete their no-deal preparedness for 12 April”.

Having followed and reported on the technical, administrative and financial support in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Union preparations and support far surpass that available to British citizens and businesses.

The European Council had offered to extend the UK's departure date to 22 May 2019 - provided the Withdrawal Agreement was approved by the House of Commons no later than 11pm on 29 March.   The UK has now passed this deadline – and the extension expires at precisely 23:00 BST on 12 April 2019 – with a ‘default’ of a no-deal Brexit.

The European Union communique notes that Europe “has remained united throughout its preparations – but that it is now important that everyone is ready for and aware of the practical consequences a ‘no-deal’ scenario brings”.

In a no-deal scenario, the UK will become a “third country without any transitionary arrangements”. All EU primary and secondary law will cease to apply to the UK from that moment onwards.  There will be no transition period.  This will cause “significant disruption for citizens and businesses”.

The UK's relations with the EU would be “governed by general international public law, including rules of the World Trade Organisation.  The EU will be required to immediately apply its rules and tariffs at its borders with the UK.  This includes checks and controls for customs, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and verification of compliance with EU norms”.

The Commission warns that “despite the considerable preparations of the Member States' customs authorities, these controls could cause significant delays at the border.  UK entities would also cease to be eligible to receive EU grants and to participate in EU procurement procedures under current terms”.

UK citizens will no longer be citizens of the European Union.  They will be subject to additional checks when crossing borders into the European Union.  Whilst “Member States have made considerable preparations at ports and airports to ensure that these checks are done as efficiently as possible, but they may nevertheless cause delays”.

UK businesses and citizens need to be aware of the impact of ‘no-deal’ from the European perspective.  It will affect personal, travel, tax, regulatory, commerce and business arrangements.

Background: the EU's ‘no-deal’ preparedness and contingency work

European Commission active preparations for a ‘no-deal scenario began in December 2017 and have been continually updated:

  • 90 preparedness notices,

  •  3 European Commission Communications, and

  •  19 legislative proposals (listed below).

The Commission toured the capitals of the 27 EU Member States to clarify and discuss national preparations and contingency plans.  The visits showed a high degree of preparation by Member States for all scenarios.

Each Member State has been engaged in intensive national preparations.  Overviews of technical, business and residency rights in the EU27 Member States are now widely available on national and European websites.

Of the 19 legislative proposals required, 17 proposals have been adopted or agreed by the European Parliament and the Council.  The final two proposals are in final stages of completing the process.

The European Commission's ‘Brexit Preparedness Communications’ has consistently underlined that the “EU's contingency measures will not – and cannot – mitigate the overall impact of a ‘no-deal’ scenario - nor do they in any way compensate for the lack of preparedness or replicate the full benefits of EU membership or the favourable terms of any transition period, as provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement.  These proposals are temporary in nature, limited in scope and will be adopted unilaterally by the EU.  They are not ‘mini-deals’ and have not been negotiated with the UK”.

EU ‘no-deal’ contingency measures include:

  • PEACE programme: the continuation of the PEACE programme on the island of Ireland until the end of 2020.  As for the period after 2020, the Commission has already proposed as part of its proposals for the next Multi-annual Financial Framework to continue and strengthen cross-border support for peace and reconciliation in the border counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

  • The EU Budget : [presently close to final adoption]) in a ‘no-deal’ scenario, the EU will be in a position to honour its commitments and to continue making payments in 2019 to UK beneficiaries for contracts signed and decisions made before 30 March 2019, on condition that the UK honours its obligations under the 2019 budget and that it accepts the necessary audit checks and controls.

  • Fishing rights and compensation: these measures provide for compensation for fishermen and operators from EU Members States under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for the temporary cessation of fishing activities.  It also ensures that the EU is in a position to grant UK vessels access to EU waters until the end of 2019, on the condition that EU vessels are also granted reciprocal access to UK waters

  • Financial services: temporary, limited measures to ensure that there is no immediate disruption in the central clearing of derivatives, central depositaries services for EU operators currently using UK operators, and for facilitating novation, for a fixed period of 12 months, of certain over-the-counter derivatives contracts, where a contract is transferred from a UK to an EU27 counterparty.

  • Air connectivity and safety: these two measures will ensure basic air connectivity in order to avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU and the UK in the event of a ‘no-deal’ scenario.

  • Road connectivity: allows for the continuation of safe basic road connectivity between the EU and the UK for a limited period of time, provided that the UK gives reciprocal treatment to EU companies and operators.

  • Rail connectivity: ensures the validity of safety authorisations for certain parts of rail infrastructure for a strictly limited period of three months to allow long-term solutions in line with EU law to be put in place.  This is, in particular, related to the Channel Tunnel and will be conditional on the United Kingdom maintaining safety standards identical to EU requirements.

  • Ship inspections: this aims to ensure legal certainty and secure business continuity in shipping.

  • Re-alignment of the North Sea – Mediterranean Core Network Corridor: This adds new maritime links between Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands to the core network, and introduces a new funding priority to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF): adapting transport infrastructure for security and external border check purposes.

  • Climate policy: this measure ensures that a ‘no-deal’ scenario does not affect the smooth functioning and the environmental integrity of the Emissions Trading System.

  • Erasmus + programme: students and trainees abroad participating in Erasmus+ at the time of the UK's withdrawal can complete their studies and continue to receive the relevant funding or grants.

  • Social security entitlements: the entitlements (such as periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence in the United Kingdom before withdrawal) of those people who exercised their right to free movement before the UK's withdrawal are safeguarded.

  • Visa reciprocity [in the process of final adoption]: visa-free travel to the EU for UK nationals if the UK also grants reciprocal and non-discriminatory visa-free travel to all EU citizens.

State aid

Financial resources and/or technical assistance: the EU's existing State aid rules make it possible to address problems encountered by businesses in the case of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.  

By way of example, State aid rules permit consultancy aid for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or training aid which could be used to assist with SMEs preparedness (including possible future custom formalities).  

The Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines contain provisions on temporary restructuring support schemes for SMEs, which could be useful to address their liquidity problems caused by Brexit.  

Access to finance is possible in various formats, e.g. through State-financed lending schemes respecting the reference rate or State guarantees under the guarantee notice (contact point available here).

Funding and support under the EU budget

Technical and financial assistance from the European Union can also be made available in certain areas, such as the training of customs officials under the Customs 2020 programme.  

Other programmes can help similar training projects in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary controls.  

For agriculture, EU law provides a variety of instruments to cope with the most immediate effects of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom - in particular in a no-deal scenario.

Links and References to Preparedness notices

The European Commission has published 90 sector-specific preparedness notices.  They provide detailed guidance to the different sectors affected by Brexit.

EU citizens:

European Commission preparedness website

Overview of residence rights in each EU27 Member States

Member States national “no-deal” websites

Notice on Travelling

Factsheets on travelling, citizens' rights, studying, and consumer rights

Q&A on Erasmus

Q&A on a “no-deal” scenario

Information for EU citizens living in the UK

EU businesses:

A range of materials on customs and indirect taxation

a simple 5-step checklist for businesses

Information related to Agriculture

Seven Things Businesses in the EU27 need to know in order to prepare for Brexit

John ShuttleworthComment