BRUSSELS—The European Union has warned it will immediately start carrying out full checks on goods entering from Britain—prompting long queues on both sides of the Chunnel linking the UK to the continent—if there is a no-deal Brexit next week.
Senior officials in Brussels said the bloc will have to apply its customs and food safety rules immediately in the event that the two sides don’t sign off on an agreement or extension of the UK’s membership by the extended deadline, April 12.
They stressed that this will mean all live animals, from livestock to racing horses, and animal-derived products, including meat, dairy, and honey, will be subject to controls at the EU’s borders with Britain in such a scenario.
In a series of briefings April 4, the European Commission warned a no-deal exit of the UK from the bloc is now “highly likely,” due to the ongoing political crisis in Westminster.
Officials have warned such a schism would entail a “brutal” overnight change that would see the entire network of laws that underpins the relationship between the two sides fall away overnight.
“If there is a no-deal Brexit, the UK will become a third country from one day to the next,” said Pierre Moscovici, who is the EU commissioner in charge of customs. “If there’s a no-deal scenario, new customs controls will have to be introduced. At the moment, goods move without any customs formalities or checks.”
The Frenchman said that the five countries most affected by Brexit—Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands—have hired about 2,500 new customs officers between them to deal with the new controls.
However, he warned, “it should be clear nevertheless that a cliff-edge scenario would create major disruptions.”
Of the UK’s top 10 global trading partners, seven are countries inside the EU. Brussels’ figures show more than 4 million goods transport vehicles travel between Dover and Calais every year, at a rate of 11,000 per day.
“The disruptions could be very, very major. If planes cannot fly, if trains cannot run, if trucks cannot cross the Channel, then we have a very serious issue,” said a senior EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he wasn’t authorized to talk about the issue. “Even if the trains, planes, and trucks can operate properly, we’ll still have problems around to what extent you can transport live animals and what products you can bring into the EU from the UK.”
The bloc’s commissioner for transport, Violeta Bulc, insisted the publicity blitz over the EU’s no-deal planning wasn’t designed to scare people and politicians in Britain ahead of a crunch Brexit summit next week.
“At this point, what I really care about is European citizens and European stakeholders. You’d be surprised how many stakeholders still don’t hear this message. This is serious and we really do have to be ready for a no-deal scenario,” Bulc said.
The EU Commission has announced a number of time-limited, unilateral measures in the event of a no-deal Brexit, typically lasting for six months to a year, covering areas such as aviation, road transport, customs, and the environment.
It has repeatedly stressed that the measures are strictly limited to the bloc’s own interests, are based on the UK reciprocating, and don’t replicate the advantages of membership of the club or a negotiated agreement.