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.
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 to an end a half-century of ever closer economic integration.
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.
“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,” she 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.”
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.