18 Jan 2019

Brexit: France activates no-deal plan

6:11 am on 18 January 2019

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said a no-deal Brexit looks "less and less unlikely" and has launched a contingency plan to prepare for it.

Cars and trucks exit the DFDS Seaways Newhaven-Dieppe ferry "Cote d'Albatre" in October 2018 in Dieppe's harbour, northwestern France.

Trucks leaving the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry. Some residents are concerned that potential customs controls that might be introduced after Britain leaves the European Union could slow down traffic and hit small seaside towns like Newhaven and Dieppe disproportionately hard. Photo: AFP

After the UK Parliament rejected the withdrawal agreement, Mr Philippe said laws had to be passed and millions invested in French ports and airports.

An EU official will now visit all 27 capitals to co-ordinate no-deal plans.

EU countries with close UK ties have already begun preparing for its departure on 29 March without a deal.

"We are taking this very seriously now as the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is becoming more possible after Tuesday night," said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas. "This is work which is ongoing and it's developing fully. We are not taking any chances."

He also revealed that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May had texted each other since her defeat in Parliament on Tuesday, but said they had not spoken.

Germany's Economy Minister, Peter Altmeier, has warned "everyone in Europe would lose" from the UK leaving without an agreement.

How are Europe's governments preparing?

The countries with closest trade links are most exposed, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

France has already been gearing up for 29 March and Mr Philippe said a law would provide a legal framework for a "hard Brexit".

Some €50m would be invested in ports and airports, focusing on control points and parking areas, with the possible appointment of 580 customs and veterinary staff.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar updated the Dáil (Irish parliament) about the Dublin government's plans for legislation on a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday.

Of all the EU member states, Ireland has the closest links to the UK and much of the government's non-priority business is being scrapped to focus on measures covering health, communications, education, finance, employment and justice.

Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag said on Wednesday night that the Netherlands was launching a major information campaign on 28 January.

"After Ireland, the Dutch economy is most entwined with that of the UK," she said, citing fisheries, meat-processing and flower exports. She warned that many small and medium enterprises had failed to make sufficient preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that plans for a disorderly Brexit would have to be stepped up.

"In the coming days and weeks, we will do everything we can so that Britain exits with and not without an agreement," he told the Bundestag (German parliament).

Read more on Brexit:

What is UK prime minister doing?

Theresa May will have to put a new EU withdrawal plan to Parliament by 21 January ahead of a vote by MPs eight days later.

Party leaders and senior MPs have been meeting Mrs May to try to find a compromise on Brexit after her withdrawal deal was rejected by MPs.

But Labour's Jeremy Corbyn called the talks a "stunt" and will not take part unless a "no deal" Brexit is ruled out.

Senior politicians on all sides have also been meeting with cabinet ministers to try to find a way forward.

The prime minister will publish a new plan on Monday with a full debate and key vote scheduled for Tuesday, 29 January.

Corbyn's red line

In a speech in Hastings Mr Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, said he was "quite happy" to talk with Mrs May, but she had to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

The Labour leader urged Mrs May to "ditch the red lines" and "get serious about proposals for the future".

He said: "With no-deal on the table, the prime minister will enter into phony talks just to run down the clock and try to blackmail MPs to vote through her botched deal on a second attempt by threatening the country with the chaos that no-deal would bring."