The EU has unveiled a raft of measures to protect its “vital interests” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The European Commission on Wednesday recommended 14 measures in a number of areas, including financial services, air transport, customs and climate policy.
Among the plans are emergency policies to “avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU and the UK in the event of no deal”.
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But the bloc warned that the last-minute plan “will only ensure basic connectivity”, signalling that there could still be significant disruption to flights.
Notably absent from the package was a blanket bail-out for British citizens living in the EU – who will instead be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by member states, adding to their uncertainty.
The Commission “invites member states to take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU, provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK” – but stopped short of ordering safeguards to ensure they can keep living and working abroad.
On trade, the bloc confirmed that “every consignment” of animal products and live animals would have to be checked at border posts on entry to the EU from Britain – likely leading to huge queues and causing massive disruption to Britain’s agricultural industry even with the contingency plans in place.
The plans include a nine-month grace period during which UK-based lorries and hauliers would still be allowed to take goods between the UK and EU.
The Commission has also advised financial services firms they should consider relocating to the EU if they want to continue selling products there, because they “will no longer be allowed to provide services in the EU on the basis of their current authorisations”.
“Financial institutions that wish to provide banking or insurance services in the European Union should take all necessary steps to be properly authorised on withdrawal date, including by establishing presence in the EU27,” it said in an explanatory note.
Gibraltar will notably be excluded from the no-deal contingency measures, a move likely to cause consternation in London.
The bloc says, however, it will continue to fund peace process schemes in Northern Ireland “in all scenarios” even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Valdis Dombrovskis, Europe Commission vice president, said the measures were aimed at creating a “soft landing” in the event of a no-deal scenario, but that they were ultimately “an exercise in limiting damage”.
He told reporters in Brussels that the contingencies “cannot replicate the benefits of the EU withdrawal agreement and certainly cannot replicate the benefits of EU membership”.
The measures unveiled by the European Commission are all short-term and it says they should “in principle” not go beyond the end of 2019.
A no-deal Brexit will happen if Theresa May is unable to get her Brexit deal through parliament, and then decides to go ahead with Brexit anyway.
The government has the power to stop a no-deal Brexit if it wants to by revoking Article 50, though it might have to seek the consent of parliament.
British citizens’ groups criticised the lack of provision to protect them and said they had been abandoned by both the EU and UK government.
“We are appalled to learn that, while aviation and financial services merit an extension of current agreements in the case of no deal, people do not,” said Jane Golding, co-chair of British In Europe.
“With the spectre of no deal rising again, so are people’s anxiety levels and it is wrong that citizens’ rights were not guaranteed at the outset. Now British citizens have a been given a clear message that if there is no deal they are on their own, abandoned by the UK government and the EU. This is a far cry from the negotiators’ promises that we would be able to live our lives as before.
“And it is an even further one from the blithe but false promises that were made by Vote Leave that the Vienna Convention would protect us come what may.”
She added: “Above all, at a time when EU citizens across the EU are questioning whether the European project is relevant to their lives, is this the legacy that the European parliament and other institutions want to take into the European parliament elections and beyond, as a warning to future mobile citizens?’”
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.