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    A pro-remain supporter of Britain staying in the EU, holds up an EU flag whilst taking part in an anti-Brexit protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London (File)

    Panic in Brussels as EU Mulls Equating No-Deal Brexit With Earthquake to Tap Disaster Fund

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    BRUSSELS (Sputnik) - With less than 60 days left before Brexit, the European Commission is considering effectively equating a no-deal with a natural disaster to divert funds reserved for floods, fires, earthquakes and volcano eruptions to EU nations that will struggle with the fallout of the UK withdrawal, a step that re-sparks the debate about who will be the worst hit by the potential chaos.

    On Monday, media reported, citing a proposal published on the European Commission’s website, that the EU executive body proposes reforming the EU Solidarity Fund, which was established in 2002 to respond to major natural disasters across the bloc.

    Every year, the European Commission budgets about 500 million euros ($548.5 million) to the fund, but now it wants to make these resources available to "furnish member states with financial assistance to cover the heavy charges inflicted on them in the event the United Kingdom leaves without an accord."

    Though the initiative is yet to be approved by EU nations and the European Parliament, it shows that Europe is seeking ways to help the "first line countries" such as Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark cope with the Brexit ramifications. Ireland is among the potential recipients too, with the nation, projected to be worst-hit, already getting support for its agriculture and beef sector.

    EU in Panic: Brexit = Tsunami?

    Commenting on the proposal, Damien Lempereur, a Paris lawyer and the spokesman for the France Arise party, questioned the proposal to divert disaster funds from a legal viewpoint.

    "This very strange use of the ‘emergency fund’ furiously looks like decisions taken in ‘banana republics’ where the money of the state is simply stolen by changing its destination. Can the outgoing Commission take such a decision which was not budgeted in the middle of summer, without having prepared any contingency plan for Brexit? What happens if the Member states empty the coffers of the 500 million EUR reserves in it and then real natural disasters hit Europe this fall and winter? Is the new president of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen going to put candles at Notre-Dame asking the Lord not to send natural disasters to Europe before next year?" Lempereur said.

    He also noted that the move "seems like total improvisation and smells of panic in European circles."

    "But of course, they criticise [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson and the UK government and accuse him of being a dilettante in preparing for Brexit. Coming from people who consider now Brexit as a ‘natural disaster,’ it is quite funny!" he pointed out.

    Crucial Hours in UK Parliament As Johnson At War With Remainers

    The news about the EU initiative comes as Johnson remains determined to take the country out of the bloc with or without a deal, with "no ifs and buts" by the 31 October and faces crucial hours in parliament.

    The prime minister's decision to suspend parliament for five weeks from mid-September until October 14 has further stoked tensions in the United Kingdom, with a cross-party alliance of parliamentarians now seeking within the remaining time to introduce a bill to foil Johnson’s plans and ask Brussels for another Brexit delay.

    Johnson insists that the move will jeopardise all the progress and prevent him from getting a last-minute deal, saying that the UK team is negotiating hard with the bloc.

    His opponents within his own Conservative Party, however, argue that it is not true, with former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, for example, openly contradicting Johnson and telling the BBC that there is no progress "because the UK government has tabled no proposals" and "there are no alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop that would meet the UK’s red lines".

    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London, Britain
    © REUTERS / Jessica Taylor
    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London, Britain

    As Johnson fights with Remainers both in the opposition and his own party, reportedly threatening to purge the latter if they join efforts with the Labour to block a no-deal, the Brexit Party and the UKIP, in contrast, take the prime minister’s side, saying that keeping the United Kingdom in the bloc is something that the EU tough negotiations stance aims at.

    Is UK in Such a Bad Position as EU Claims?

    Since the EU initiative to tap the disaster funds to mitigate Brexit ramifications has unlocked the eternal debate about who will become the main loser of a no-deal, experts commented on the issue, specifically given the fact that Brussels believes that the negative impact will be "proportionally much greater for the United Kingdom" than for the EU 27.

    "What concerns Brexit, less than 60 days away now, the EU has itself caught in the trap of its authoritarianism. Contrary to what we are told, the EU will lose big. In the present last-minute negotiations, if they really take place, Johnson still has the weapon of the 40 billion EUR that the United Kingdom could refuse to pay in case of exit without a minimum agreement on the Irish border," French economist Claude Trouve, author of the blog Independance & Liberte, stated.

    The predictions of doom made by then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and then-President Barack Obama when they were effectively campaigning for "Remain" have not come true either, Trouve noted.

    "The British pound was devalued by 17 percent against the euro in 2015 and 2016 but has recovered 10 percent before somewhat weakening again. This was very good for British exports. Where is the drama? The London stock market and the financial centre of the City have only seen some transfers to the continent. No panic for sure", he said.

    © AFP 2019 / ISABEL INFANTES
    A pro-Brexit activist holds a placard as she protests outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on September 3, 2019.

    According to the expert, the UK economy has not dived, remaining to be "attractive to investors" and a "major importer."

    "What shows the good management of a country is the debt resulting from accumulated deficits and budget surpluses. If we look at the figures provided by the OECD on what happened from 2012 to 2018, during which the United Kingdom received the first jolts of the Brexit vote and look at what is happening in the main major EU countries, the UK is in a favourable position", he went on.

    Trouve added that "the annual growth of France over the period was only 1.19 percent against 1.76 percent for Germany and 2.19 percent for the United Kingdom".

    "Where is the announced disaster? Now it is the EU that scrambles with incredible last-minute decisions, notably to tap the natural catastrophe budget of the EU for Brexit! It sounds like panic. The atmosphere in the Brussels meeting room where Barnier’s and Johnson’s teams are discussing must be very hot for this end of summer!" he concluded.

    UK Economy on Path Toward New Renaissance?

    Jean-Paul Baquiast, a former top French civil servant and the author for the Europesolidaire blog, does not share doom scenarios for the post-Brexit United Kingdom either, not ruling out that the country may be actually on the course toward a new renaissance.

    "This devil of a man, Boris Johnson has a solid education at the best universities in the world. If he survives the crisis, which is far from certain, I believe the UK economy will live a real renaissance. The rumour is that the idea of Johnson is to make an investment in the UK so attractive that it will become a real land of opportunity, US-style, for investors from all over the world", Baquiast noted.

    Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray reacts with an anti-Brexit marching band outside the Houses of the Parliament in London, Britain September 3, 2019
    © REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLS
    Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray reacts with an anti-Brexit marching band outside the Houses of the Parliament in London, Britain September 3, 2019

    Europe, according to Baquiast, is meanwhile suffering from its own fiscal policies, with citizens taxed at "incredible, punishing levels" and businesses shouldering these effects. In addition, the continent continues drifting toward de-industrialisation, losing many sectors "completely."

    "For certain, Donald Trump will give him [Johnson] a very favourable trade deal with the USA, and Boris Johnson, a staunch liberal might find the right cocktail of very low taxes and multiple advantages that would transform the UK in a US plane carrier, anchored a few kms from the largest world market, Europe", he suggested.

    Yet, it is Europe that still remains the main market for the United Kingdom, with possible border delays and new trade barriers likely to affect the country as well as its main EU partners at least in the short term.

    Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Political Turmoil in UK as Boris Johnson Struggles to Deliver Brexit (53)

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