BRUSSELS/LONDON • The European Union (EU) yesterday adopted backup plans to protect air transport and financial markets in the event Britain leaves without a Brexit deal in 100 days.
And the bloc promised that British citizens living in Europe would continue to enjoy residents' rights, "provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK".
EU officials insist the measures would not mean Britain can quit the union painlessly, but that it is important for "time-limited" measures to "mitigate" the harm.
"The best, if you talk in terms of the economy and avoiding disruptions, is to stay within the EU," European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters.
"Then, if the decision on Brexit is taken, of course withdrawal or Brexit with a deal is better than withdrawal with no deal," the former Latvian prime minister said.
The European Commission said it was acting "to ensure that the necessary contingency measures can enter into application on March 30, 2019 in order to limit the most significant damage caused by a 'no-deal' scenario".
The package covers 14 areas where a "no-deal" Brexit "would create major disruption for citizens and businesses", including in financial services, air transport, Customs and climate policy.
Brussels hopes it will not have to activate its plans if Prime Minister Theresa May persuades a sceptical British Parliament to endorse a broad withdrawal deal she struck with European leaders last month.
But the Bill's passage is far from certain and, on Tuesday, Britain announced its own contingency plans to prevent shortages and economic instability in the event it crashes out of the bloc without a deal.
Under the plans, the EU will allow United Kingdom-based financial operators to continue to access European markets for 12 months under a "temporary and conditional equivalence" period to prevent disruption.
Europe will allow British flights to continue to access the "Single European Sky" air traffic control area for 12 months and extend some aviation licences for nine months after March 29.
There will also be measures to allow UK firms temporary access to the EU emissions trading market and new Customs regulations to oversee trade with Britain as an outside party.
Meanwhile, the British government set out the biggest overhaul of its immigration policy in decades yesterday, ending special treatment for EU nationals while promising to give businesses time to adapt to its post-Brexit plans.
In a long-awaited policy paper on how Britain intends to approach immigration after its exit from the EU, the government said the system would prioritise skilled workers and treat EU and non-EU citizens alike.
The policy paper did not spell out a specific target for annual net migration, but said it would reduce the number to "sustainable levels as set out in the Conservative Party manifesto".
The pledge in that 2017 election manifesto was to reduce the annual number to below 100,000.
Skilled workers coming to Britain under the new system will have to be sponsored by a company and will be subject to a minimum salary threshold, the level of which will be set following a consultation with businesses over the next year.
There will not be a cap on the number of skilled workers.
The government, which will introduce its post-Brexit immigration legislation in Parliament today, said it planned to speed up the processing of work visas and reduce the burden on businesses sponsoring workers.
EU nationals will not need a visa for a tourist visit to Britain of up to six months, the policy paper said, and Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel and work freely in Britain.
The new system will be phased in from the start of the post-Brexit implementation period, currently set to run until the end of December 2020.