BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU officials said on Monday they had completed their plans for what they saw as an increasingly likely no-deal Brexit, piling pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May as she battled to persuade her own lawmakers to back a divorce agreement.
May was fighting to keep control of Britain’s exit from the European Union as some in her party called on her to quit and parliament plotted to wrest the Brexit process away from her government.
“Time is running out. A disastrous no-deal Brexit is more likely than ever,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian europhile who deals with Brexit as a member of the European Parliament, which must sign off on any final divorce agreement.
“We are prepared for this scenario,” said one EU official, referring to the prospect of Britain crashing out without any agreements on trade or transition to avoid the economic shock of a sudden break.
EU officials said France, Belgium and the Netherlands - which face Britain across the Channel and the North Sea - were hiring up to 2,100 people for additional customs and checks on animals and plants in case they were needed.
Member states were setting up 20 new border inspection points, they added, as the bloc prepared some measures to protect expatriates’ rights and extend cooperation in transportation in the event of a no deal.
Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay at an EU leaders summit last week.
Now, Britain will leave on May 22 if the prime minister’s deal is approved by parliament this week. If not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty.
The deal May negotiated with the EU has already been defeated in parliament twice - by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15.
“We don’t want a no-deal Brexit, we’d much rather have the Withdrawal Agreement, but if it is to be a no-deal, let’s do it quickly,” said the EU official under condition of anonymity.
“They compare it to a plaster - you can take it off very very slowly and it’ll hurt for some time. Or you can take it off very very quickly and it’s done. They want certainty.”
Contingency plans are temporary and would not solve all the problems that would arise, another EU official said.
“It doesn’t mean things would be smooth or easy,” that official said. “What we expect to see is more waiting time for goods and people when crossing the border into the continent.”
After last week’s EU leaders summit, diplomats said there was still work to do to prepare for a no-deal Brexit in countries including Ireland and Belgium.
And there is no solution in sight for the Irish border - which will become the EU’s only land frontier with the United Kingdom after Brexit - to avoid extensive checks on an island with a long history of violence.
Editing by Andrew Heavens