Frustrated European leaders are demanding the EU publish its no deal Brexit contingency plans amid fears businesses on the continent will have little time to prepare if trade talks with the UK collapse.
Officials in Brussels have said trade negotiations between Britain and the bloc are now entering the ‘final push’.
But some EU member states are increasingly nervous because negotiating deadlines keep being missed and time is running out before the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period in December.
France, the Netherlands and Belgium are all pushing European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to set out the EU’s worst case scenario plans so businesses have a ‘safety net’ and can start to prepare just in case trade talks fall apart.
Discussions remain ongoing between the two sides but the middle of November had been viewed as the latest a deal could be agreed because of the amount of time needed to ratify and implement the new arrangements.
Deadlock remains in a handful of crunch areas, including on post-Brexit fishing rights, and European leaders believe it is now time for the EU to spell out its contingency plans for a disorderly split.
A senior EU diplomat told The Times: ‘We must now come up with contingency measures.
‘January 1, 2021 is getting close; we need a safety net. Of course, this sends out a political signal.
‘But it is high time to prepare people and businesses in case we cannot fix an agreement in time. I know member states will ask to get contingency measures out into the open.’
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is said to be reluctant to publish the plans because of fears it could give Boris Johnson and the UK the upper hand in trade talks.
The UK Government has already published its own no deal contingency plans.
EU leaders will this evening take part in a video summit to discuss the bloc’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
But they are also expected to be updated on the state of the trade talks which both sides now admit are heading down to the wire.
Valdis Dombrovskis, a European Commission vice-president, said yesterday: ‘The negotiations are ongoing with great intensity because we are now in the final push to reach agreement.
‘There’s still substantial work to do.’
A failure to agree a deal before the end of the transition period will see the two sides forced to trade on World Trade Organisation terms from January 1 and that will mean tariffs being imposed on goods.
Business groups on both sides of the English Channel are calling for the EU and the UK to compromise and strike an accord as they continue to warn companies cannot afford a chaotic split, especially after they have been hammered by the coronavirus crisis.