The European Commission has adopted, on February 12, a proposal to keep the Channel Tunnel open even the UK will leave the European Union on 30 March, without a deal. The proposal will help mitigate the significant impact that “no-deal” Brexit scenario would have on rail transport and connectivity between the EU and the UK.
The proposal will ensure the validity of safety authorisations for certain parts of rail infrastructure for a strictly limited period of three months to allow long-term solutions in line with EU law to be put in place. This is, in particular, related to the Channel Tunnel and will be conditional on the United Kingdom maintaining safety standards identical to EU requirements. This will ensure the protection of rail-passengers, the safety of citizens and will avoid major disruptions of cross-border rail operations and shuttle services after the UK’s withdrawal.
Since its opening, the Channel Tunnel has been a vital link between the UK and continental Europe, as 25% of UK trade with continental Europe passes through the Tunnel. Annually, 20 million passengers, 2.6 million cars, 1.6 million trucks travel between Europe and UK using Channel Tunnel.
In addition to this proposal, it is also essential that the concerned undertakings and national authorities continue to take all necessary measures to comply with EU rules on train driver licences, market access, as well as safety certificates and authorisations required to operate in the EU.
The proposal follows the calls by the European Council in November and December 2018 to intensify preparedness work at all levels, and the adoption on 19 December 2018 of the Commission’s Contingency Action Plan. To date, 19 legislative measures have been proposed and 88 preparedness notices have been published.
The EC says that the contingency measures will not, and cannot, mitigate the overall impact of a “no-deal” scenario, nor do they in any way compensate for the lack of preparedness or replicate the full benefits of EU membership or the favourable terms of any transition period, as provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. The proposal is temporary in nature, limited in scope and will be adopted unilaterally by the EU and it takes into account discussions with Member States.
The European Commission will work closely with the European Parliament and the Council to ensure the adoption of the proposed legislative measure so that it is in force by 30 March 2019.
Under the UK’s Brexit process, there are two possible main scenarios. If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before 30 March 2019, EU law will cease to apply to and in the UK on 1 January 2021, after a transition period of 21 months. The Withdrawal Agreement includes the possibility for a single extension of the transition period for up to one or two years. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified before 30 March, there will be no transition period and EU law will cease to apply to and in the UK as of 30 March 2019. This is referred to as the “no deal” scenario.