EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday published a back-up plan to protect road and air travel and fishing rights if Britain leaves the union without a trade deal.
|President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the EU headquarters' Europa building in Brussels on December 10, 2020, prior to a European Union summit.(YVES HERMAN / POOL / AFP) |
The UK left the European Union on January 31 and at the end of this month will leave the bloc's single market and customs union, bringing a half-century of ever closer economic integration to an end.
Negotiators from London and Brussels have been trying to agree a follow-on trade pact that would govern cross-Channel business after the transition period ends, but talks are deadlocked with three weeks to go.
The EU's Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost resumed their talks on Thursday with barely 72 hours left before the decisive moment, and the contingency plan served as "no deal" warning shot.
"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," 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."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to Brussels on Wednesday for a working dinner with von der Leyen to talk through the logjam, and the leaders agreed to give the negotiators until Sunday to make a breakthrough.
But London is refusing to, in Johnson's view, compromise its newly reclaimed sovereignty by signing up to match future EU regulation.
Several EU members, notably France, have been pushing for von der Leyen's Commission and her negotiator Michel Barnier to take a tougher line, and to publish the contingency plan to show they are ready for "no deal".
The EU Commission described the plan as "a set of targeted contingency measures ensuring basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the EU and the UK, as well as allowing for the possibility of reciprocal fishing access by EU and UK vessels to each other's waters."
- Coastal state -
The measures would go into effect on January 1. They would come to an end if a deal is found or after a fixed period.
Basic air transport will continue for six months provided the UK agrees to reciprocate, as will access for road haulage.
The interim fisheries regulation would continue until the end of 2021, but it provides for "continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other's waters".
Johnson's government insists it will assume full sovereignty over its waters on January 1, and Number 10 greeted the publication of the plan with extreme caution.
"Once we leave the end of the transition period, we will take back control of our waters," Johnson's official spokesman told reporters.
"And we would never accept arrangements and access to UK fishing waters which are incompatible with our status as an independent coastal state."
On the transport issues, Number 10 promised to study the EU proposals, adding: "This kind of statement from the EU is expected. We've obviously set out our own plans in the event of an FTA not being reached."