The federal government’s inner cabinet – the prime minister and his deputies only – are meeting this Wednesday morning to discuss the effects of last night’s rejection by a majority of the British parliament (photo) of the Brexit agreement negotiated by British PM Theresa May. On one level at least, the government has started making preparations for what many believe will mean the United Kingdom crashes out of the EU with no agreement at all. Earlier this week it was revealed that the minority government was working on an emergency law to cope with a no-deal Brexit when the deadline for Britain’s departure comes on March 29.
According to the National Bank, a hard Brexit could cost Belgian companies that export to the UK 1.6 billion euros in additional customs duties and tariffs, while a study by Leuven university said 40,000 Belgian jobs could be at risk.
The emergency law will have to cover a range of matters, from new customs documentation for British goods to additional customs staff, as well as the effects on air and rail transport, port activity, food safety and the rights of Belgians living in the UK.
Meanwhile, according to finance minister Alexander De Croo, only one in five companies who trade with the UK is ready for the consequences of a no-deal. According to figures collected by the Belgian customs services, of the 25,000 companies who have trade relations with the UK, barely 5,000 said they were prepared should a hard Brexit come about – something last night’s vote brought closer.
“The government has to do its job and make sure Belgian customs are ready for Brexit,” De Croo said. “But it’s just as important that businesses prepare as well.”
Prime minister Charles Michel reacted to the British vote last night. A hard Brexit could still be avoided, he told Belga news agency. “The ball is more than ever in the court of the British,” he said. “The 27 [remaining EU states] have stressed that the agreement on the table is the only one possible. It is now up to the British to accept the consequences of their choice.”