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EU preparations for a no-deal Brexit

Published Friday, April 12, 2019

The EU and the other 27 Member States have been preparing for a possible no-deal Brexit. The European Commission has had a no-deal preparedness plan which is now complete, and the EU27 have also been implementing their own preparations which will take effect if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This paper looks at the EU programme and at some of the EU27 measures, particularly in the area of citizens' rights.

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A no-deal Brexit is not wanted but is still possible

The European Union and the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom agree that a no-deal Brexit is not what they want, but it cannot be ruled out. The UK Parliament has not approved the Withdrawal Agreement endorsed by the Prime Minister and the other 27 EU Member States (EU27) in November 2018, and without this approval and ratification of the Agreement, the UK could leave the EU without a deal. The Prime Minister asked for, and was granted, first a short extension to the Article 50 period and then a longer one, to 31 October 2019. Under a European Council Decision of 11 April 2019, the UK has until 31 October to complete ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement or leave without it on 31 May 2019.

The EU’s no-deal preparedness programme

If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement there will be repercussions for the EU as well as the UK. European Commission preparations to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit began in December 2017, and on 25 March 2019 the Commission declared that its no-deal ‘Brexit preparedness’ programme was complete. The Commission has published 92 ‘preparedness notices’ and 46 temporary legislative measures have been proposed or adopted - for example, legislation amending EU Regulation 2018/1806 will allow short-stay visa-free travel for UK citizens in the EU27 states, on the basis of UK reciprocity (this will also apply in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, which are in the Schengen area).

The Commission’s programme is one of damage limitation in areas that would be most seriously affected and could create problems for the EU27 states. It includes measures in the financial sector, transport and travel, customs and the export of goods, climate policy, agriculture and fisheries, social security coordination, the ERASMUS and PEACE programmes, cooperation in the export of dual-use items, international trade in services and foreign direct investment. The new measures will, for example, facilitate road haulage, rail and aviation continuity between the UK and the EU27, or compensate fishermen for Brexit-related losses. The measures are mostly temporary (around 9-12 months) and a future EU-UK agreement is expected to provide long-term arrangements.

EU27 provisions on citizens’ rights

The Commission has not legislated for residence rights (which are subject to national laws on third-country entry and residence) but has asked Member States to take a “generous approach” to the rights of UK nationals already living in their territories, as long as the UK does likewise. In response the EU27 have agreed to continue many existing residence, employment and travel rights for a temporary period. In some case, UK citizens have been offered special conditions that other third-country nationals do not enjoy, in particular where UK tourism is important (e.g. Portugal and Spain). Several Member States (e.g. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Romania and Slovakia) have offered permanent national ‘regularisation’ for UK citizens already living in the country. Most Member States have implemented at least some citizens’ rights legislation, but not everything currently provided by the ‘free movement Directive’.

Most Member States (Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) have planned or adopted temporary legislation providing a ‘grace period’ for UK nationals during which they will need to regularise their status under national immigration laws. Several states (including Belgium, France, Netherlands and Poland) explicitly make this legislation conditional on UK reciprocity.

Several states have said they will guarantee rights if there is no deal, but have not yet done so (according to a recent Institute for Government report, ten EU27 states have not yet put their contingency plans in place).

Most Member States have launched information campaigns via British Embassies in their territories, encouraging UK citizens to check their residence status and take any necessary action. They provide online information on government websites, explaining how UK citizens’ legal status might change and how to get documents they need to stay in the country; most also link to UK Government policy and advice on settled status in the UK.

Other no-deal preparations

Member States are implementing the EU’s no-deal preparedness legislation and have also made their own plans to mitigate a no-deal impact on the economy, trade, business, services, transport and a range of other sectors. Many have planned border and customs adaptations, for example. Those with major ports (e.g. Belgium) and significant trade with UK (e.g. the Netherlands) have provided extra border infrastructure and new technology systems, and recruited extra customs or veterinary staff (e.g. France, Ireland, Poland, Netherlands, Spain). Portugal is planning to open special lanes for UK tourists at airports.

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