The European Commission said it is "not taking any chances" in preparing for Brexit as the possibility of a no-deal divorce was seen to increase after UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement suffered a historic defeat in Parliament this week.
"We are taking this very seriously now as the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is becoming more possible after Tuesday night," Margaritis Schinas, spokesperson for the commission, the European Union’s executive arm, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.
"We have prepared a significant package on preparedness work" in case Britain crashes out of the EU without an agreement, he said.
The commission’s deputy secretary-general is embarking on a tour of the EU capitals to discuss their preparations for a no-deal exit and to coordinate individual governments’ efforts with the EU-wide measures, Schinas said. The commission’s contingency plans focus on "essential and urgent" policies, ranging from air traffic to data sharing to derivatives clearing.
"This is work that is ongoing and it’s developing fully," Schinas said. "We are not taking any chances."
Schinas said the commission would not comment on speculation that the UK might request an extension of the Brexit process under Article 50 of the EU treaty.
James Slack, spokesman for the UK’s May, said on Thursday that the EU had raised the issue of extending Article 50 "at official level" with the UK. Britain responded that "the government’s position is we don’t want to extend Article 50," Slack told reporters in London.
EU officials "have not received such a request for an extension," Schinas said in Brussels. "The request would have to set out the reasons for such an extension."
Laura Cooper, an economist at RBC Capital Markets, said an extension of Article 50 is "likely" following the defeat of May’s deal in Parliament. "This will allow for more time to try to get an amended withdrawal agreement through," Cooper said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been in contact with May, Schinas said. "They haven’t spoken, but they are in contact. They are texting," he said.