0836 GMT July 17, 2019
EU envoys of the 27 countries remaining in the bloc after Brexit discussed on Wednesday stepping up contingency planning should no agreement with Britain emerge on how to run the unprecedented process, Reuters.com reported.
The 27 EU leaders have agreed to meet on the weekend of Nov. 17-18 to sign off on any agreement with Britain, which on March 29, 2019, will become the first country ever to leave the bloc.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive, confirmed on Thursday it was preparing for the possibility of Britain leaving the bloc without a divorce deal or an outline of their future relations, but reiterated it was working to conclude a treaty.
Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, was due to meet the head of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, on Thursday. Corbyn has said Labour would vote against a Brexit deal based on Prime Minister Theresa May’s current proposals.
That has added to EU worries that, even if they secure a deal with May, it could be rejected in the British parliament, where both Labour and some in May’s deeply divided Conservative Party could vote against it.
Some EU diplomats and officials have reacted with irony to dozens of no-deal guidance papers issued recently by London, saying they envisage a lot of cooperation - and trust - between the sides even in the case of negotiations breaking down.
While a temporary extension of existing rules could work for air traffic or mutual assurances of citizens’ rights, they would be more problematic in areas such as customs.
Germany’s Brexit pointman Alex Dittman said the EU-27 still believed “a deal is much better than a no-deal for all parties involved”.
The future customs border is the key point of contention in the negotiations as the sides differ deeply over how to avoid installing border checks between EU state Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland after Brexit, something they fear could upset the island’s Good Friday peace agreement.
Both sides appear to have dug in their heels since a meeting in Salzburg last week between May and the other 27 leaders turned sour, with the
EU rejecting her plan that would see continued free trade in goods after Brexit.
But every negotiation also has its share of political theater - something a third senior EU diplomat called “the ritual dance” - and each side hopes the other will blink first.
The EU and Britain are now negotiating a divorce deal. Should they agree on that and the agreement is ratified by both the British and the EU parliaments, Britain would get a status-quo adaptation period until the end of 2020.
That would delay most of the real effects of Brexit. Most EU diplomats expect that transition period to be extended as two years is unlikely to be enough to negotiate future cooperation accords on issues ranging from trade to food safety.