Brussels has urged EU governments to pursue a firm line in their ties with Britain in the event of a failure in their talks on post-Brexit trade and governance arrangements, as the transition period draws to a close, according to a diplomatic note seen by the Financial Times.
The document from Thursday's meeting on the no-deal contingency measures suggests EU member states were warned to stop short of doing anything – including side deals with the UK – starting from 1 January to mitigate the effects of a no-deal outcome to the almost year-long negotiations.
According to a EU official cited by the edition, the bloc's authorities have "no illusions" about a no-deal scenario being unpredictable.
"Everyone understands there are no guarantees the British come back to the table", the official said. Another one reportedly told the assembly that an "incentive must be maintained" for the British to return to the negotiating table "as soon as possible" if the talks ultimately bear no fruit.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has announced a set of contingency measures the sides, the EU and Britain, have worked out to apply post-Brexit, while acknowleding the talks over trade and governance arrangements following the UK's divorce from the bloc are ongoing. However, there is no guarantee, she said, that even if or when they lead to a certain accord, it will take force "on time".
The measures would stipulate smooth air and road travel for the next few months, among other things, von der Leyen said.
"Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities", she tweeted in her statement.
In the first place, the Commission proposes a one-year legal framework for contested fisheries, until a comrehensive agreement with the UK on fishing quotas comes along. Yet another tabled regulation covers "basic connectivity with regard to both road freight, and road passenger transport for 6 months", provided the UK makes the same assurances with regard to EU haulers.
As per Ms von der Leyen, the third regulation ensures that various safety certificates for products will continue to apply on EU aircraft without disruption, so that there will be no need to ground them.
With time running out for a comprehensive accord before the 31 December deadline there has been widespread speculation that the sides will enter the new year with no deal whatsoever.
'No-Deal' Option Ripped in UK and Abroad
European leaders including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Irish counterpart Micheál Martin stressed that both sides would be much better off with an agreement, warning of the economic fallout of a potential no-deal outcome.
"The implications are very serious for all concerned in the event of a no-deal and I think all politicians in the UK and across Europe need to reflect on that", Mr Martin told reporters at the summit in Brussels. Mr Rutte said: "It would be unexplainable to the world if the UK and Europe were not able to come to a deal".
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is meanwhile facing mounting criticism over his perceived failure to unlock the current stalemate.
"One year after Boris Johnson promised us an oven-ready deal he has completely failed. The failure to deliver the deal he promised is his and his alone", Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted.
The Scottish National Party's Parliament leader, Ian Blackford, also took to Twitter to criticise Johnson and said that a no-deal option "would be a massive failure" of his diplomacy.
"The UK govt continues to spin about an Australian style deal. For the absence of doubt that means no deal. It means world trade organisation rules, it means damaging tariffs devastating manufacturing, farming and fishing", Blackford went on to state.
Brussels and London will make a decision on the direction and the fate of the talks on Sunday, with Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen having earlier this week agreed that a Brexit deal must be clinched by the end of the week at the latest or there will be no deal at all. The problem is that additional time will otherwise be needed for it to be formally ratified, in line with protocol, by 27 member states, as well as the parliaments of the EU and the UK.
Despite the time complications, senior EU figures, including the Irish and German foreign ministers, said Friday they continued to believe an agreement was possible.
The issues still hindering the talks include fishing quotas in the waters that the UK deem as sovereign or British, as well as governance and market play conditions that would apply to businesses in Britain and beyond. In particular, the EU is demanding a regulatory "level playing field" that would guarantee European companies be shielded from unfair competition on British territory.
Mr Johnson has said the demands threaten his country's sovereignty, as the whole point of Britain exiting the EU is to break away from certain EU regulations. As for fishing quotas, the UK suggests they should be negotiated individually, on an annual basis, while Brussels calls on Britain to cede more stocks and grant a more universal access to its waters.
Another sticking point is how the rules of the deal will be enforced in the years to come and what reciprocal measures will be taken if one of the sides fails to meet them.