Brexit Transition in 10 days: European Parliament sets the scene for ‘no-deal’

In the final session of the year, the European Parliament resolved that:

  1. without a written proposal – and time to give it due consideration – they would be unable to ratify a Brexit deal; and
  2. temporary measures come into effect in order to keep Eurotunnel open for a short ‘grace’ period in the event of a no-deal end to the transition period.

European Commission lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, had earlier updated MEPs in an address to Parliament on the state of discussions on Thursday [17 December].

Negotiations continued between the UK and EU over the weekend up to the European Parliament’s deadline of Sunday evening when they broke up with significant differences remaining between the parties.

European Parliament press release on future EU-UK relationship

  • MEP’s acknowledged the enormous efforts of their team attempting to avoid a no deal scenario – and the huge negative impact it would have on citizens and businesses;
  • Emphasised their wish to avoid the disruptive impacts of a possible no-deal outcome;
  • Noted the UK Government’s “refusal to even consider extending the transition period”;
  • Endorsed four “targeted and time-limited contingency measures” to soften a no-deal cliff-edge;
  • Should an agreement be reached by negotiators before midnight on Sunday 20th December, “stands ready to organise an extraordinary plenary session towards the end of December” to allow the European Parliament to “debate the outcome of negotiations and consider granting its consent”;
  • “Insists that this is contingent on having access to the text of any agreement in advance of the formal referral being made, and in this respect urge the Commission to provide the Parliament with a provisional text as soon as possible”;
  • Endorses that ratification of any agreement is: “dependent on the full implementation by the UK government of all provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.  The European Commission must provide Parliament with a full report on the implementation of the Protocol, in order to allow it to assess whether or not this condition has been met;
  • Precludes the European Commission from making a “provisional application of trade agreements.”  A deal can be implemented “only once the European Parliament has given its consent”;
  • Highlights the exceptional nature of these negotiations and stresses that in no way can this be seen to constitute a precedent for future trade agreements.  The usual format of cooperation and access to information must be fully guaranteed in line with EU Treaties – including “far-reaching sharing of all negotiating texts, regular dialogue, and sufficient time for formal EP scrutiny and debate of agreements”;
  • Noted its gratitude for the “dedicated and professional work of the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the Commission ‘Taskforce’, who are “working tirelessly for a positive outcome” – and welcomed their extremely close and regular cooperation with the European Parliament.

European Parliament:  17 December 2020

MEPs adopted temporary measures to keep the tunnel railway connection between continental Europe and the UK running after the end of the transition period in the event of no-deal end to the Brexit transition.

France is empowered to negotiate a “new international agreement with the UK regarding the governance of the Channel Tunnel Fixed Link. The Intergovernmental Commission would remain the main safety authority for the tunnel.

“To avoid rail traffic being interrupted in the Channel Tunnel Fixed Link as of 1 January 2021, the European Parliament agreed to temporarily extend safety licences and certificates to allow France and the UK sufficient time to conclude a bilateral agreement.  The licence for the current tunnel infrastructure manager would remain valid for ‘two months’ after the end of the transition period. The safety certificates and licences issued under EU law to UK companies would be extended for nine months.

Four other contingency measures will be put to the vote on 18 December to provisionally maintain cross-border connectivity between the UK and the EU on roads and by air as of 1 January 2021.

Michel Barnier briefing to European Parliament

Speaking to the European Parliament, Michel Barnier said it was the “moment of truth” for the two sides coming to a Brexit agreement by the end of the year.

“We have very little time remaining, just a few hours to work through these negotiations in a useful fashion if we want this agreement to enter into force on the first of January…There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow.”

Mr Barnier emphasised that the bloc would not sign a deal “at any price or any cost” – and concluded that he was unable “to say what will come during this last home straight of negotiations.”


Photo:  AP.  Britain’s lead negotiator, Lord Frost, leaves Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Sunday evening, 20 December 2020 – having missed European Parliament’s deadline to table a proposal for ratification by the end of Brexit transition period.