The EU and the UK may need to start planning for a “no deal” scenario if the pace of the Brexit negotiations does not speed up, the president of the European council has said. In a direct response to Theresa May’s statement in the House of Commons on Monday, in which she said the British government was preparing for talks to fail, Donald Tusk admitted the negotiations were floundering.
He ruled out any chance of “sufficient progress” on the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border being made by a European council summit on 19 October, which would have allowed wider trade talks to begin, as originally planned.
But in a significant shift in tone, Tusk also appeared to suggest that, should the impasse continue past Christmas, both sides might need to move into an emergency footing to address the consequences of failing to reach a deal.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has previously warned that a no-deal scenario would lead to extreme uncertainty for 4 million citizens, supply problems in the UK, and the reintroduction of burdensome customs checks which would slow down trade and lengthen lorry queues in Dover. He has also spoken of disruption in air traffic to and from the UK and the suspension of the distribution of nuclear material to Britain.
Addressing regional leaders in Brussels on Tuesday, Tusk said: “I would like to refer to Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent words. We hear from London that the UK government is preparing for a ‘no deal’ scenario. I would like to say very clearly that the EU is not working on such a scenario. We are negotiating in good faith, and we still hope that the so-called ‘sufficient progress’ will be possible by December.
“However, if it turns out that the talks continue at a slow pace, and that ‘sufficient progress’ hasn’t been reached, then – together with our UK friends – we will have to think about where we are heading.”