Nervous Europe ramps up Brexit preparations

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — Europe is ramping up preparations for the economic blow of a possible "no deal" Brexit, fearing the political crisis in London has killed off hopes of an orderly divorce.

Contingency planning has been under way for months, but Prime Minister Theresa May's apparent inability to sell any withdrawal deal to parliament has focused minds.

EU leaders insist the British economy will be worst hit by a disorderly breakdown in trading ties, but Britain's neighbours are also braced for disruption.

Renewed border controls and regulatory barriers could slow trade and choke ports, and uncertainty hangs over the rights of British citizens living in EU states.

A solution may be found, but in the meantime here are some of the key early decisions made in Brussels and key British trading partners.

European Commission

While EU negotiator Michel Barnier has handled talks with London on the divorce deal, planning for a "no deal" scenario has fallen to the bloc's powerful secretary general, Martin Selmayr.

Brussels has taken a coordinating role for member states and published 88 advisory notes, sector by sector, focused on threats to financial markets, air traffic, customs and emissions trading.

After Tuesday's failed vote in London, the Commission announced plans to send teams to all 27 other EU capitals to coordinate a continent-wide plan.

Ireland

Ireland, the only EU member with a land border with Britain, has the next most to lose in a chaotic Brexit.

Politically, concerns have focused on how renewed border controls could stir potential unrest in Northern Ireland, but the economy is also at risk.

Ireland is hiring 1,000 staff to implement agricultural and customs checks, although the government has faced criticism for failing to disclose how many hires have been completed.

In its 2019 budget, unveiled in October, the Republic put aside a 1.5 billion euro (US$1.7 billion) "rainy day fund" and a "no deal Brexit" omnibus bill will go to parliament in March.

At the port of Dublin work is under way on 33 inspection bays, 270 truck parking spaces, a dedicated border control post for live animals and office accommodation for an additional 144 staff.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands would be heavily exposed because of trading links via Rotterdam, Europe's largest port. It has set aside 100 million euros (US$100 million) for preparations, including the appointment of 900 new customs officers.

The government also announced unilaterally last week that the approximately 45,000 British citizens and their families currently living in the Netherlands will get a 15-month "grace period" to apply for a full residency permit.

France

France activated its plan for handling the effects of a no-deal Brexit on Thursday.

It provides for 50 million euros (US$56 million) of investment in ports and airports, infrastructure for carrying out border checks and extra car parks to help cope with tailbacks.

France plans to recruit 580 additional customs staff and veterinary inspectors.

Belgium

Belgium's government is going through its own crisis as Britain wrangles with Brexit, with Prime Minister Charles Michel having lost his majority in a row over immigration.

But legislation has been prepared to recruit 115 new public servants to reinforce customs and animal and farm product health controls.

The estimated 25,000 British citizens in Belgium have been promised they will be allowed to stay on reciprocal terms to the Belgians living in the UK.


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