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THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION is preparing for a hard Brexit. The ratification of the November agreement on the British side is getting complicated. There is no certainty that Prime Minister Theresa May will get the support of Parliament in the January vote. He has barely surpassed a motion of confidence raised from the ranks of his own party, and already has another of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on the table. The issue of the Ireland backstop is the main stumbling block of the agreement. The unionists and a good part of the tories do not want to support an agreement that contemplates this measure, even if only as a safety net, and for a limited time.
British society is increasingly divided by Brexit, between pro-European forces calling for a second referendum and Brexit support forces who believe that Mrs May’s agreement with the European Union is full of concessions to Brussels and call for a pure disconnection and It lasts next March 29 at 11 at night, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
PM went to the last European Council on December 13 to ask for help, in the form of a public clarification, from the EU side, that the backstop between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will never be activated. He may have reassured the most skeptical in the House of Commons, who today deny him the necessary support to ratify the agreement. Instead, Ms. May obtained a statement from the 27 reaffirming that there will be no renegotiation of the agreement with the United Kingdom, and that the November agreement is the only one possible. The only thing they agreed to is to say that the barrier between the Irlandas is not desirable by any of the parties and will do everything possible to prevent it from being applied.
The communication from the European Commission, published this Wednesday, December 19, can be read as another way of saying no to the British Prime Minister. Brussels is preparing for a disconnection without agreement, which would take effect at zero hours on March 30, 2019. The first measures of the contingency plan and the forecasts on legislative changes affect sectors such as trade, air transport and tourism , social security, financial services, or the residence status of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and those of the United Kingdom in the EU.
The Commission calls on citizens, companies and Member States “to prepare for all possible scenarios, assess the relevant risks and plan their response to mitigate them” -page 1 of the Communication.
Brussels stresses the importance of Member States refraining from the temptation of bilateral arrangements with London to solve particular problems:
“It would undermine the ratification process, in most cases it would not be compatible with European Union law, and could create an uneven playing field between Member States. In addition, it would complicate future negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom […] It is essential to continue with a single approach “–page 2.
Contingency measures must comply – at all levels of decision: EU and Member States – with three principles, according to the Commission.
First, the measures “should not replicate the benefits of belonging to the Union” – page 2. In other words, Brussels does not want the European Parliament, the Council and the States to prepare for disengagement by taking measures that extend the status Quo currently as a solution waiting for a definitive association agreement between the two banks of the Canal.
The second principle prescribes that contingency measures must be temporary.
In addition, they must be measures taken unilaterally by the EU in their own interest and must be revocable at any time.
The measures of adaptation to Brexit in a scenario of non-ratification of the agreement must respect the division of competences foreseen in the Treaties. The measures adopted at the decision level of the States must be compatible with Union law. Finally, “they should not be measures that remedy delays that could have been avoided by means of preparation and timely actions by relevant actors” –page 3.
The Commission calls on the Member States to take measures so that all UK nationals who are legally residing in a Member State on 29 March continue to be considered as residents without interruption.
This measure will be conditional on the reciprocity of London with the nationals of EU States that are residing in the United Kingdom. Brussels announces in its communication that “it will continue to closely monitor the position of the United Kingdom with respect to the residence status of Union citizens in the United Kingdom”.
The Commission calls on the Member States to recognize –both for EU27 and EU citizens– periods of work and Social Security affiliation until the day of disengagement.
Brussels proposes that the European Parliament and the Council adopt a legislative act that establishes a period of twelve months during which financial entities established in the United Kingdom may continue to operate in the European Union, provided that the measure is reciprocal from the British side. For the services of central securities depositories, the Commission proposes a transitional period of 24 months.
To avoid the interruption of air traffic between the two banks of the English Channel, Brussels proposes a regulation authorizing “temporarily, for twelve months, the provision of certain air services”.
United Kingdom airlines will be allowed to cross European airspace without landing. They will also be authorized to make stops and carry out cargo and passenger transport services.
Customs and export
The Commission asks the Member States that by 30 March 2019 they are in a position to apply the Union Customs Code and the relevant indirect taxation rules to all imports from the United Kingdom and all exports to the United Kingdom.
If the agreement is not ratified on the British side, the United Kingdom will become, for all purposes – also for trade – a third country.
The contingency plan of the Commission foresees to maintain the cooperation programs between the border populations of the two Irlandas, financed with EU Structural and Investment Funds.
Perhaps it is the only nod that the document allows to the urgency of Prime Minister May in a clarification of the Irish question that points towards the continuity of the open border situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.