Warning of travel chaos if there is no Brexit deal
TRAVELLERS to Europe face “chaos” if there is a no-deal Brexit, opposition politicians have warned following the release of more UK Government contingency papers.
The final batch of 104 technical notices warns cross-border rail services, including Eurostar trains to the Continent, could be suspended without specific agreements with France and Belgium.
Eurostar, which runs about 40 direct services a day via the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other destinations, currently holds only a UK licence.
It would have to apply for new licences, certificates and authorisations from the EU rail regulator to continue services.
The Government advice states: “Passengers using cross-border services are responsible for ensuring their insurance and ticket terms and conditions are sufficient to cover possible disruption.”
It also explains the UK is seeking bilateral arrangements with France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland to “facilitate the continued smooth functioning of cross-border rail services”.
The notice adds: “Given the large amount of trade and citizens travelling on these services it is in both sides’
interests to agree to such arrangements.” Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab sought to reassure travellers, saying they should not put off buying rail tickets because Britain would work with its EU counterparts to ensure they were able to travel and goods could be moved.
Opposition politicians were unconvinced. PRO-EU Labour peer Lord Adonis, the former transport secretary, said any severing of the vital train link between Britain and Europe would hurt thousands of travellers and businesses. “Brexit,” he said, “will bring about travel chaos.”
Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine, for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Eurostar is a great example of European co-operation and engineering prowess. The fact that no-deal could put it out of service is symbolic of the mess the Government have made of Brexit.”
Among the contingency papers, one warns the Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland could cease to operate, hitting consumers on both sides of the border.
Mr Raab stressed that even if the bilateral co-operation between London and Dublin on energy did not continue, the UK would be prepared, saying: “We have got interconnectors and the regulatory measures that the Government can take to make sure Northern Ireland maintains the energy supply it needs.”
North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins, for the SNP, said the latest documents should serve as a “wake-up call” to avoid a hard Brexit. “If the Prime Minister is serious about protecting the rights of people in the UK, rather than pandering to the extreme Brexiters within her own party, the UK Government must commit to remaining in the single market and the customs union,” he said.
Meanwhile, Theresa May tried to reassure her colleagues she would never agree to a backstop – the arrangement should a trade deal not happen – that “traps” the UK permanently in the customs union.
Mr Raab echoed the point, saying: “The backstop would have to be finite, it would have to be short and it would have to be time-limited for it to be supported here. What we cannot do is see the UK locked in via the back door to a customs union arrangement, which would leave us in an indefinite limbo.”
European Commissioner Guenther
Oettinger admitted it “does appear possible there will be a breakthrough” at the October 17/18 summit, confirming Whitehall optimism a deal is near on the backstop for the Irish border.
In Northern Ireland, Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionists’ deputy leader, said he expected developments over the weekend “in terms of the Government’s own position and the Cabinet”.
The DUP is adamant it will not agree to anything that results in extra customs between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Elsewhere, it was suggested UK officials were considering plans to allow an extension of the transition period beyond December 2020, to possibly December 2021, to avoid the need for a backstop ever coming into force.
Such a move would create other problems. It would enrage Brexiters as it would keep Britain in a Norway option-style scenario for longer, it would mean billions of pounds more in extra payments on top of its £39bn divorce bill and it would mean the country would not take control of its fishing waters until December 2021 at the earliest.
Chancellor Philip Hammond all but confirmed an extension of the transition period would be necessary by saying: “It is true that there needs to be a period – probably following the transition period that we’ve negotiated and before we enter into our long-term partnership – just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required.”
Eurostar services to and from the Continent could be hit in event of a no-deal Brexit.