Brexit: EU unveils emergency plan to keep Channel Tunnel open for three months after no-deal

The European Commission has unveiled an emergency plan to keep trains running through the Channel Tunnel in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU’s executive adopted the proposal at a meeting on Tuesday, and in statement said it would help “avoid major disruptions of cross-border rail operations and shuttle services after the UK’s withdrawal”.

Eurostar high-speed trains, freight, and car shuttles would continue to run even if no deal was reached, under the measures.

The tunnel could provide a lifeline for the UK, which is expected to face chaos at ports due to requirements for extra customs and regulatory checks that crashing out of the bloc without a transition period or free trade agreement would entail.

However, the EU says the extension for the tunnel is “strictly time limited” for three months and that it is conditional on Britain continuing to use safety standards “identical” to those of Brussels.

The measure technically still needs to be approved by the European Council and European Parliament – though this is likely to be a formality.

In October the UK government warned in a planning notice that that Eurostar and other trains could stop running because of legal changes around safety requirements. The new EU offer to give the UK an extension would be one way around this issue.

Eurostar had said it was having “constructive” discussions with authorities and that it planned to maintain services. It has continued to take booking for services beyond the Brexit deadline.

The EU has said it will do its best to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on its own interests, but that there will be inevitable disruption from any kind of exit from the bloc. 

The Commission says it refuses to do “side-deals” on issues without the UK signing a main withdrawal agreement – though proposals such as the one around the Channel Tunnel appear to suggest this red line is open to interpretation.

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