An anti-Brexit protester's flags made from Union and EU flags flutter outside the parliament in London, the UK, on March 25 2019. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
An anti-Brexit protester's flags made from Union and EU flags flutter outside the parliament in London, the UK, on March 25 2019. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP

Brussels — The EU believes a no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely, officials in Brussels said on Monday after the bloc gave Britain two more weeks to resolve its political stalemate.

“We are prepared for this scenario,” an EU official said describing the bloc’s contingency preparations.

As British Prime Minister Theresa May battles to keep control of Brexit and her own job, the EU has stepped up pressure on London, pushing the message that the bloc is ready for an abrupt split.

The officials, who have toured the 27 countries still in the EU after Brexit to co-ordinate preparations, said France, Belgium and the Netherlands were hiring up to 2,100 people for additional customs, animal and plant health checks that would be necessary should Britain leave the bloc with no transition deal in place.

They said EU member states were setting up 20 new border inspection points as the bloc tries to mitigate the worst disruption in transport and travel in a no-deal scenario, as well as moves to guarantee expatriates' rights.

Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured the delay. Now a departure date of May 22 will apply if parliament passes the withdrawal agreement May agreed with the EU in November. If she fails, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty to smooth the transition and avoid an economic shock.

London is also due to inform the EU by April 18 whether it will contribute to the bloc’s 2020 budget as planned, even in a no-deal scenario.

"We don't want a no-deal Brexit, we'd much rather have the withdrawal agreement, but if it is to be a no-deal, let’s do it quickly,” the EU official said of EU businesses' approach.

Among the 27 remaining EU states, France has the most hardline stance, while Germany and the Netherlands are ready to give Britain more time to break the impasse.

The EU insists its contingency preparations are unilateral and temporary, aimed at smoothing the most acute problems.

“It doesn't mean things would be smooth or easy,” another EU official said. "What we expect to see is more waiting time for goods and people when crossing the border into the continent."

Preparations by the most exposed EU states such as Ireland and Belgium are far from complete, EU diplomats said after the leaders' summit last week.

The 27 national leaders called “for work to be continued on preparedness and contingency at all levels ... taking into account all possible outcomes” — words diplomats said meant they were not entirely ready yet.

And there is no solution in sight for the Irish border — which will become the EU's only land frontier with the UK — to avoid extensive checks on an island with a long history of violence.

Reuters