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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.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 1, 2021 - Economy & Business

Post-Brexit Britain arrives

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It took two general elections, three prime ministers, and just over 4 1/2 years, but as of today Britain finally has the Brexit it voted for in June 2016.

  • It's not a pretty sight.

The big picture: Britain has left Europe's single market and customs union, and is no longer governed by European law.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."