EU steps up pressure on UK amid rising prospect of no-deal Brexit

The EU and others have intensified the pressure on the UK over what is seen as the fast-rising prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Photo Credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jul 2019

This comes after senior EU figures and a leading ferry company warned of the consequences of such an outcome when the UK leaves the EU on October 31.

First, the European Commission Secretary General, Martin Selmayr, said he was “very certain” the UK is not ready for a No Deal scenario.

Speaking on Wednesday, the German official said, “We have seen what has been prepared on our side of the border for a hard Brexit. We don’t see the same level of preparation on the other side of the border.”


His comments were followed by an intervention by the EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, who again warned the UK there is no chance of a renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement which has already been rejected by the Westminster Parliament.

Barnier also said on Wednesday that UK negotiators and Prime Minister Theresa May have never told him they would choose the option to leave without a deal, adding, “I think that the UK side, which is well informed and competent and knows the way we work on the EU side, knew from the very beginning that we’ve never been impressed by such a threat. It’s not useful to use it.”

Barnier’s remarks come after the UK Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, appeared before the Commons EU Exit Committee on the same day.

Asked about his recent meeting with Barnier, Barclay said some reports had been “misleading,” adding, “In terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, what I said was that the House had rejected it three times, including the third time by a significant margin; that the European election results in my view had further hardened attitudes across the House and that the text [of the deal], unchanged, I did not envisage going through the House.”

He added that Task Force 50, the EU negotiation team led by Barnier, currently has no mandate from the EU27 to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, but that a new mandate could change this.

“We have seen what has been prepared on our side of the border for a hard Brexit. We don’t see the same level of preparation on the other side of the border” Martin Selmayr, European Commission Secretary General

On the subject of No Deal mitigation, Barclay said, “Is No Deal disruptive? Yes. Are there mitigations the Government can take? Yes. Do I sit here saying that’s a panacea to all issues?  No, because there’s a pace and scale in terms of adjustments.”

Specifically, he suggested that the Government could offer support to the car industry and sheep farmers to compensate them for losses incurred by new trade barriers.

He also said that a framework was in place to procure additional ferry capacity, if it was needed to facilitate the movement of goods.

On security, he said that the “legal position” was that the UK would lose access to EU police databases immediately in a No Deal scenario.

On fishing, Barnier said that the legal position was that EU fishing boats would lose access to UK waters immediately in a No Deal scenario, but that government policy was to pursue a “continuity” approach in the short-term.

Meanwhile, ferry companies operating across the Channel have also warned of gridlock at UK ports in a No Deal Brexit, as they would not be able to take trucks bound for France on board without the right paperwork.

The spokesman for the DFDS ferry company, Gert Jakobson, said, “If a truck doesn’t have the right document we cannot board him. We cannot take lorries across that cannot enter the country [France],” warning, “For a period of time, for a few weeks and months, we assume the problems will be bigger. There will be more who are not yet accustomed to the paperwork.”

President of Port Boulogne Calais in France, Jean Marc Puissessau, also said, “If hauliers don’t have documents they won’t be allowed to board. This was the rule on 29 March. Those same rules will apply on 31 October.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Transport said, “There are well-developed plans in place to manage any traffic disruption in Kent in the event of a No Deal scenario, keeping the M20 open with traffic continuing to flow in both directions. The Government remains focused on ensuring the UK’s smooth and orderly withdrawal from the EU.”

Separately, in an assessment to be released on Thursday, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) will say that the UK’s economy in a No Deal Brexit scenario will be 3 percent smaller than if the UK leaves the EU with a deal.

The OBR’s evaluation of the impact of No Deal for the next five years predicts a contraction for the UK economy in 2020, but forecasts a recovery in 2021.

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