EU makes fishing and transport no-deal offers in return for 'level playing field'
UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the talks were unlikely to be extended beyond Sunday’s deadline without substantial concessions from Brussels
The European Union (EU) has said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, British airlines could be banned from landing in European destinations and public disorder could break out as haulage routes break down.
But in a flurry of announcements, the European commission said it would legislate to temporarily allow airlines from the UK to operate flights across its territory and it would keep roads open to British hauliers for six months, if the government maintained regulations equivalent to EU law, reports the Guardian.
The EU will also offer British fishermen access to its seas and open negotiations over quotas, if the UK government reciprocates. The European commission said the offers were for a limited period and it was only willing to act to avoid the worst disruption, including the risk of outbreaks of violence.
In a move that will only serve to irritate the British government in the context of the troubled talks on a future trade deal, the commission insisted its offer depended on the UK having "equivalent" regulations.
"A level playing field requires that, even after the end of the transition period, the UK continues to apply sufficiently high and comparable standards," state the contingency documents to help the bloc prepare for a no-deal exit.
In haulage, that would include the prohibition of unjustified government subsidies and the maintenance of the current levels of protection for workers and the environment.
Boris Johnson's spokesman said the publication of the contingency plans had been expected and they echoed proposals from September 2019.
"We'll obviously look at the details very closely. We've already set out our own plans in the event of a free trade agreement not being reached," he said.
He played down the risks of supply disruption in the event of no deal, saying the UK had a "resilient supply chain" and had made extensive preparations.
The publication of the contingency measures, long sought by EU member states, follows agreement on a new Sunday deadline for the negotiations between the UK's chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.
The timetable was set at a dinner in Brussels on Wednesday night between Johnson and the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, where "frank" and "lively" exchanges led to little being resolved.
EU leaders arriving in Brussels for a summit on Thursday offered a downcast assessment of the state of the talks. Sweden's prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said: "I'm a bit more gloomy today. As far as I hear, there was no progress made in the recent days. It's problematic, of course. That is a huge challenge we've always said that we are preparing for the worst … hoping for the best. And now, it seems, difficult, it's a difficult situation."
Micheál Martin, Ireland's taoiseach, urged the commission to do everything it could do to overcome the obstacles. "It is very difficult, and from talking to colleagues no one understates the challenges that lay ahead – but it's important for the citizens of Europe we do everything we possibly can to get an agreement," he said.
Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister, said it was "in everyone's interest that an agreement is reached", but insisted the EU's line could not and would not change. She said the bloc could not show more flexibility on fisheries, adding: "We can offer many things, but not flexibility."
Deals could be so bad they were "not worth adopting", she said, and the EU would "not make an agreement that undermines companies in Denmark, Sweden or Germany".
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the talks were unlikely to be extended beyond Sunday's deadline without substantial concessions from Brussels.
But in a hint that the government hopes discussions might continue after the weekend if progress is being made, Johnson's spokesman said: "Both the prime minister and Ursula von der Leyen have agreed that a firm decision should be made about the future of talks by Sunday." He declined to say what the substance of any potential compromise might be.
Raab said Brussels would need to back down from its demands on controlling fishing waters and laws on standards.
"It's fair to say that, whilst there was a good conversation last night, and it was frank and it was candid, the significant points of difference remain. I don't think we can keep going on at that pace without having some progress and some flexibility," he told the BBC.
"On the fisheries, we've accepted that there needs to be some sort of transitional period but we must be able to control access to our own waters. We've agreed that we'd follow the EU's approach to free trade deals with countries like Canada and Korea in relation to the so-called level playing field requirements."
"What we're not going to be treated … is in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept. It's about some basic respect for democratic principles." Raab accused the bloc of lacking "pragmatism and flexibility".
The Tesco chairman, John Allan, has suggested food bills could rise by 5% as a result of the tariffs and disruption from a no-deal Brexit. But Raab told the BBC that tariffs would be a "very minor proportion" of food prices.