The European Union has set out no deal contingency plans for how to keep planes flying and cars travelling to and from the United Kingdom on January 1st, warning that there is “significant uncertainty” that a deal can be reached.
It comes after the two sides acknowledged there were still significant differences in their positions and that negotiators would have until Sunday to try to find a path forward, as a meeting between Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British prime minister Boris Johnson in Brussels failed to reach a breakthrough.
“Negotiations are still ongoing. However, given that the end of the transition is very near, there is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found, it can enter into force on time,” Ms von der Leyen said.
“Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities, including not having a deal in place with the UK on 1 January 2021. That is why we are coming forward with these measures today.”
The contingency measures include proposed regulations that would allow planes to keep flying for six months between the two jurisdictions “provided the UK ensures the same”, and to ensure safety certificates for products on planes can continue to be used to avoid the grounding of aircraft.
A regulation would also allow for road freight and passenger transport to continue between the two jurisdictions, ensuring that trucks can still go through the Channel tunnel.
To avoid EU fishing boats abruptly losing permission to access UK waters, the Commission has proposed an “appropriate legal framework” that would last a year or until an agreement with Britain is concluded, to allow “reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters”.
Together, these proposals would “mitigate some of the significant disruptions that will occur on 1 January in case a deal with the UK is not yet in place”, the Commission said in a statement.
The regulations are required because unless a deal is agreed with the British government, the existing legislation covering such arrangements would lapse overnight at the end of the year.
The EU has warned that there will be disruption irrespective of whether a deal can be found however, and has urged businesses and citizens to prepare for new arrangements like border checks on people and goods and customs declarations that will come into force.
“Disruption will happen with or without an agreement between the EU and the UK on their future relationship,” the commission said in a statement.
“This is the natural consequence of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union and to no longer participate in the EU Single Market and Customs Union. The commission has always been very clear about this.”
EU national leaders are meeting in Brussels today to discuss Covid-19 vaccination plans and climate change among other issues, and are expected to receive an update from Ms von der Leyen on how talks stand.
Some member states have been calling for the contingency plans to be launched for months. But the commission had been reluctant to release the texts while negotiations were ongoing, for fear of giving a negative signal about the outcome or even smoothing the path towards a no deal by removing some of the downsides.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin appealed for a deal to be made between the two sides, insisting that there was a way forward for an agreement to be reached.
“I think the overall interests of the people of Europe it’s very important from my view that a deal is reached,” Mr Martin told journalists as he entered a meeting of fellow EU leaders in Brussels.
“I think the key to unlocking this is to stand back and look at the overall picture here. 97 per cent of this is agreed. Are we saying that we’re going to lose out on a deal because of the 3 per cent? Notwithstanding the significance of the issue, the bottom line is that a hell of a lot of work has been done, a lot of agreement has been reached on quite a lot of this, so in my view one final effort is required here. There will obviously be a need for compromise at the end of the day.”
“UK standards and EU standards align on a lot of issues ... I think there is a way through that in terms of the issues as seen by both sides. It is one that in my view can be negotiated.”