BRUSSELS — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to send Parliament packing in the crucial weeks leading up to Britain’s October departure from the European Union has left European policymakers and businesses bracing for a chaotic break, as more and more people give up hope that the split will be eased by a transition deal.
E.U. authorities in Brussels are considering whether to free up emergency funds that are typically given to countries hit by natural disasters. French customs authorities are drilling on how to enforce border checks that haven’t been in place in decades. European citizens living in Britain are fretfully checking to make sure their legal status to work doesn’t disappear overnight.
Are any conversations happening between the E.U. and Britain?
Johnson is warning rebellious Conservative lawmakers that if they vote to tie his hands and prevent a no-deal Brexit, they will harm the progress he says he is making in discussions with Brussels.
“Our friends and partners are increasingly seeing the possibilities of an agreement,” Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday. He said that his opponents “want to force us to beg for yet another pointless delay. If that happens, all the progress that we have been making will have been for nothing.”
But the warning may be based on an inaccuracy. European policymakers say there is minimal discussion taking place. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last month, Johnson promised to come up with an alternative proposal to keep open the Irish border — a major sticking point in the negotiations.
Is Johnson right that he has the E.U. running scared?
Many European policymakers have been resigned to Brexit turmoil since Johnson ascended to power in July. They remember his role as a key Brexit advocate ahead of Britain’s 2016 referendum, and they have held out little hope for a new strategy that would make the split any easier.
But some of them also thought that Johnson’s glad-handing approach to politics might make it easier for him to win backing from Parliament than it was for his stiff predecessor, Theresa May.
That flicker of optimism has mostly been extinguished.
Neither Macron nor Merkel wants to be left holding the bag for a no-deal Brexit, fearful of the political baggage if Johnson succeeds in pinning them with the blame for a chaotic fallout after a split.
But neither sees much room for maneuvering. Neither they nor other E.U. leaders are willing to favor a departing member, Britain, over a faithful ally, Ireland, whose leaders dearly want to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland — one possible outcome of Brexit. It’s a matter of principle and one that Johnson seems to be underestimating.
So far, Ireland has shown little willingness to back down.
And even if Britain holds a general election in the weeks before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, it may simply put the country on autopilot toward a no-deal departure, rather than help avert it, analysts say.
What would a no-deal Brexit look like for Europe on Nov. 1?
A no-deal Brexit would be chaotic in ways both predictable and impossible to foresee. France has hired an extra 700 customs agents, and Belgium and the Netherlands have each hired hundreds more to conduct checks of goods coming from and going to Britain.
Leaders have tried to calm worries.
But the sudden new border would be a major challenge. Small and medium-size businesses would be hit especially hard, analysts say, because it makes little economic sense for a small company to hire someone to handle the consequences of a no-deal Brexit when it is still unclear whether that will happen.
“Smaller businesses who are firefighting many other changes have taken the view that there’s nothing they can do to prepare for Brexit,” said Paul Hardy, the Brexit director at DLA Piper, a law firm.
Some policies are still up in the air. The previous British government said it would be generous toward E.U. citizens who wanted to travel to Britain for business. Johnson’s allies have suggested that they could be far tougher about visas and other bureaucratic matters, unsettling companies and raising the possibility of tit-for-tat reprisals from E.U. countries against British nationals.
What is the E.U. doing to get ready for a no-deal Brexit?
For nearly a year, European policymakers have been readying emergency regulations that would seek to minimize the chaos for the remaining 27 E.U. countries if Britain departs without a deal.
The measures wouldn’t fully avoid the pain of a British departure. But, for instance, they would help keep planes in the air between the European Union and Britain — something that would otherwise be in doubt.
In a sign that there may be lingering questions about whether E.U. countries are ready for no-deal confusion, an unusual message popped up last week on an E.U. regulatory website: Senior officials will soon consider whether to modify emergency-relief funding rules to allow E.U. countries to tap into disaster aid in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The money is usually used to deal with events such as floods and earthquakes.
So is the E.U. ready?
“Honestly, how can you prepare for this as a small company? You hire someone to do this, and if there’s a deal you lay them off?” asked Guntram Wolff, the director of Bruegel, a Brussels-based, economy-focused think tank.
Many E.U. policymakers say they are ready and bracing.
But one former British ambassador to the E.U., Ivan Rogers, wrote in an essay published Monday in the Spectator that both sides were missing the point.
The chaos unleashed by a no-deal Brexit on Nov. 1 would just be the beginning, wrote Rogers, who was the senior British diplomat in Brussels at the time of the Brexit referendum.
“We should be thinking 10 to 20 years ahead, not 10 weeks,” Rogers wrote.
Quentin Ariès in Brussels contributed to this report.