EU urges member states to ‘step up preparations’ in case Brexit talks fail


BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday urged the remaining 27 member countries and businesses to “step up preparations” in case Brexit negotiations fail.

The appeal came before Britain’s new Brexit negotiator Dominic Raab was due in Brussels following a rebellion in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over strategy.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, urged “member states and private parties to step up preparations” for all outcomes by the March 30 withdrawal target.

“There is still no certainty that there will be a ratified withdrawal agreement in place on that date,” it said.

Britons voted to leave the 28-nation bloc in June 2016, but negotiations were only launched a year later and have bogged down frequently since then.

Stumbling blocks includer the future of the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland against a backdrop of discord in London.

Raab was to meet EU negotiator Michel Barnier later Thursday for the first time since his predecessor David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit.

The pair rejected May’s Brexit blueprint, which would keep Britain economically close to the EU.

May is battling to unite her Conservative Party around her blueprint, formally unveiled last week following months of cabinet infighting.

It would see Britain ask the European Union for a free trade area for goods through a “facilitated customs arrangement” alongside a “common rulebook”.

Brexiteers believe that keeps Britain too close to the EU, while pro-Europeans think it fails to protect the country’s dominant services sector, among other gripes.

The backlash has seen the prime minister face persistent rumours Tory MPs are planning to topple her.

Barnier has warned that it will be difficult to reach a conclusion in the negotiations by the October target, giving parliaments on both sides time to endorse the deal.

The EU aims to give Britain a transition period until the end of 2020 to give businesses and others time to adjust to a post-Brexit future.

The 16-page commission document warns “there will be no transition period and EU law will cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom on March 30” in the event of no deal.

It also warned of possible disruption to transport, including aviation, as well as to the flow of goods as a result of customs checks.