EU tells members to plan for ‘worst possible outcome’ from Brexit talks

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
A UK flag flies outside the European Commission office in Brussels (Getty)

The European commission has told member states to step-up their preparations for all Brexit scenarios amid political chaos in the UK – including the “worst possible outcome.”

In a 16 page document published in all 24 official EU languages, the Commission warns Brexit will “undoubtedly cause disruption” and says it is of “paramount importance” to prepare for all scenarios.

Its publication came just hours before new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, arrives in Brussels for his first face-to-face talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“We are working very hard for having a Withdrawal Agreement with the United Kingdom and this is why Michel Barnier will have another negotiation round today,” said a Commission spokesperson.

“This is what we’re working for but, of course, we need to be prepared for all eventualities.”

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The document considers the consequences for the EU of Britain leaving with or without a deal.

For example, it says a “no deal” Brexit would “cause significant” delays at borders because of the need to carry out customs checks.

It also raises the prospect of having to decide whether to give UK citizens visa free travel to EU countries in a no deal scenario.

An EU diplomat said: “Technically they would require a visa on March 30. Technically.

“But this is something we can resolve unilaterally by putting them on the visa free travel list.”

The document also details contingency planning for a “no deal” scenario, which many fear has been made significantly more likely by the recent political chaos at Westminster.

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is in Brussels to meet EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time (Getty)

The Commission’s document says “planning for the worst possible outcome is not a sign of mistrust in negotiations”, stressing a deal remains their goal.

But it concedes: “The outcome of negotiations cannot be predicted.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson responded to speculation about a “no deal” scenario, telling told journalists in London that progress in Brexit talks so far “suggests that is not where we will end up,”

But the Commission published its document on the instruction of EU heads of government, who used last month’s European Council to call for an increase in preparation for Brexit as a result of a stalemate in talks.

Representatives of the EU27 member states will meet in Brussels tomorrow to discuss the state of play in negotiations and the UK government’s White Paper on the future relationship.

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An EU diplomat said they were “really happy” to have the Chequers plan on the table, but said questions remain about the feasibility of key proposals on customs and a single market for goods.

“It’s detailed but it’s unclear to a certain extent,” said the diplomat.

The EU are concerned May’s proposals represent a fresh effort at “cherry picking” parts of the single market.

But the diplomat admitted that the EU is being careful not to dismiss the plans entirely because “the situation in London is very volatile.”

They said: “Nobody can tell what will happen with the political situation in the UK now.

“That’s why we have to be very calm and prudent not to pour oil into the fire but try to negotiate as well as possible.”

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