On Monday, the European Union announced that it had completed its preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.
In Britain, meanwhile, cabinet members have reportedly been plotting to oust Prime Minister Theresa May. And, on the Monday of Britain’s last week to reach a deal, there was no clarity as to whether there would even be a third vote on the withdrawal agreement.
Last week, May asked to extend the deadline for Britain’s departure from the European Union from March 29 — Friday — to June 30. The European Union, in turn, gave Britain until May 22 — provided it can pass a withdrawal agreement this week. Parliament has already voted the agreement down twice. If Parliament does not agree to the deal May reached with the European Union this week, then the extension is only until April 12, at which point Britain could crash out of the European Union without a deal or transition period.
“While a ‘no-deal’ scenario is not desirable, the EU is prepared for it,” the commission’s statement said. It also noted that, since December 2017, the European Commission “has published 90 preparedness notices, 3 Commission Communications, and has made 19 legislative proposals.” Contingency measures on matters ranging from fishing rights to rail and road connectivity to climate policy have been put in place.
Why is there seemingly more preparedness in the European Commission than there is from the country that decided on Brexit in the first place?
“The 27 E.U. member states are doing their own contingency planning, with visits by Commission officials . . . The U.K., which will be the most directly affected in political and economic terms by no-deal, is undertaking its own planning,” Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings, wrote in an email.
That isn’t to say that the European Union is actually fully prepared. “How can you fully prepare . . . for something you have no historical understanding of doing?” Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, asked. In addition, this E.U. Commission is coming to an end. Soon there will be new commissioners and a new financial framework. Still, she said, the commission has been “doing what it can.”
And Britain, to be clear, has also spent millions in trying to prepare. “The UK began some planning after the 2016 referendum, with efforts increasing in summer 2018. In recent weeks, the pace has significantly increased with many civil servants redirected from their day jobs to no-deal planning,” wrote Sloat.
Still, the European Union appears to be more prepared for that for which they cannot prepare than Britain.
“The E.U. is clearly more prepared for a no-deal outcome, with planning underway since December 2017 and the rolling publication of detailed contingency measures,” added Sloat, formerly deputy assistant secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs in the Obama administration’s State Department. “Although the E.U. had fewer issues to address, it was more realistic about a potential no-deal outcome and has made the necessary preparations.”
Just over a week ago, Parliament rejected a no-deal Brexit, even though, in reality, unless Parliament votes for a deal, which it has not done, the country will be left with a no-deal Brexit.
There’s also an additional complication in that, with no government in Northern Ireland, May admitted in Parliament on Monday that Westminster would need to step in on decision making in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
““If there is no Stormont government, if powers are needed, and ministerial direction is needed which is not available to civil servants, it would require some direct application of powers here in Westminster,” she said.
“The government itself admits that preparations are not fully complete while businesses have complained about the lack of detailed information,” wrote Sloat. “The British government’s confidence in its ability to secure a deal with the E.U. seems to have precluded more rigorous planning, which is leading to a frantic scramble in the waning days before the deadline.”