Updated Dec 10, 2020 - World

U.K., EU brace for no-deal Brexit cliff as trade talks falter

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The European Commission published a series of contingency measures on Thursday to ensure that basic air and road connectivity are maintained in the increasingly likely event that a free trade agreement is not reached with the U.K. by the end of the Brexit transition period.

Why it matters: It's the surest sign yet that the U.K. is headed for a cliff-edge Brexit on Dec. 31, coming one day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels and failed to make progress on major sticking points.

The latest: Johnson warned on Thursday evening that businesses should make "proper preparations" for the "strong possibility" of a no-deal Brexit, saying that the current proposal on the table "is not right for the U.K."

Details: The Commission's contingency measures propose regulations to maintain air services and safety standards and basic road connectivity for both passenger and freight transport for six months, provided that the U.K. ensures the same.

  • Notably, the plan also includes a one-year proposal for "continued reciprocal access" by EU and U.K. vessels to each other's fishing waters — a subject that has been one of the most difficult and unresolved matters in Brexit negotiations.
  • Though a relatively minor part of the U.K. economy, fishing has become synonymous with the cause of restoring sovereignty because the EU is demanding access rights to U.K. waters.

The big picture: Experts have said that a no-deal Brexit with the U.K.'s largest and closest trading partner would cause massive disruptions to businesses and livelihoods, with the governor of the Bank of England warning that it would do more long-term damage to the economy than the coronavirus.

  • Hardline Brexiteers have painted that outcome as a chance for Britain to restore its sovereignty, insisting that "no deal is better than a bad deal."
  • As negotiations have looked increasingly dire in recent weeks, Johnson has stressed that "on Jan. 1, whatever happens there’s going to be change and people need to get ready for that change."

What to watch: Talks between each side's top negotiators will continue into the weekend. Johnson and von der Leyen have agreed that a "firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks" by Sunday.

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