France has issued a stark warning trains and planes from the UK could be turned back following a no-deal Brexit unless there are proper preparations in place.
As the Cabinet agreed to “ramp up” planning in case they are unable to secure an agreement with Brussels, French Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said action was needed to prevent “chaos” following a no-deal Brexit.
Downing Street sought to play down her remarks, saying preparations were in hand to deal with “all possible scenarios” after Britain leaves the EU on March 29 2019.
“It is in everybody’s interests for that not to happen,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
However, speaking at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London, Ms Loiseau suggested without a deal, the UK could be forced to negotiate “dozens” of new bilateral agreements with individual member states – a process which would take years.
Asked whether, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it was a “real possibility” Eurostar trains from London could be rejected and planes leaving Britain turned back, she said: “The consequences of a no-deal which you mentioned are correct.
“If we do nothing and if we reach no agreement, this is what would happen, among other examples.”
She added: “This is the reason why we need to prepare for a no deal because we cannot wake up on March 30 and say to our fellow citizens and to our businesses ‘we thought it would not happen so we are not ready’.”
Ms Loiseau, who held talks with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, also made clear that under EU rules, Britain could not sign any new agreements with individual member states until it has actually left the bloc.
“Until the moment you became a third country there are no bilateral agreements which can be signed regarding the issues that are covered by the European laws,” she said.
“What we are preparing – and probably what the British Government is preparing – is a list of unilateral measures taken by each and every member state in different sectors to make sure we don’t turn March 30 into chaos.
“And then we would have to start discussing with the British Government on bilateral agreements on dozens of topics for each and every member state. It would take us years.”
Following a special three-and-a-half hour meeting of the Cabinet to discuss progress on the no-deal preparations, Downing Street said ministers remained confident of securing an agreement based on Theresa May’s controversial Chequers plan.
“As a responsible Government, we need to plan for every eventuality. The Cabinet agreed that no-deal remains an unlikely but possible scenario in six months’ time,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
“Cabinet agreed to further ramp up no-deal preparations in the weeks and months to come to ensure the country is ready for all possible scenarios.”
While Mr Raab said ministers had agreed a set of measures to manage the risks in the event of no-deal, he acknowledged there would be some disruption.
“We need to be honest about this. In the event of a no-deal scenario, which is not what we want, we would face short-term risks and short-term disruption,” he told BBC News.
The warning came as the Government released its latest tranche of 28 technical papers on the no-deal preparations.
They include advice to motorists they may need to obtain International Driving Permits to continue driving on the other side of the Channel if the EU refuses to recognise UK licences.
British drivers who fail to obtain the correct documents may be turned away at borders or face enforcement action, the papers warn.
Among the other advice was:
– Free mobile phone data roaming in the EU “could no longer be guaranteed” – although Vodafone, Three, EE and O2, which cover more than 85% of mobile subscribers, have said they have no current plans to change their approach and bring in new charges.
– Transfers of personal data from remaining EU countries to UK companies and organisations could be restricted.
– UK firms working on the EU’s 10 billion euro Galileo satellite navigation system could be cut out of existing contracts as well as barred from seeking new ones.
– Holders of legal firearms face additional bureaucracy if they want to take them to EU countries, because the European Firearms Pass would no longer be available to UK citizens.
The CBI said the notices showed the importance of securing a withdrawal agreement which will give businesses a 21-month transition period in which to adjust.
Director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Efforts on all sides should be geared towards securing the withdrawal agreement to protect the transition period.”