EU told to prepare for 'worst-case scenario' of a no deal on Brexit
The risk of the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal on Brexit is a real possibility and EU states need to be ready for a "worst-case scenario".
That's the view among senior figures in Brussels despite Theresa May's publication of the long-awaited white paper outlining a vision for the UK's future relationship with the EU.
The document includes proposals to keep UK regulations in line with EU single market standards on goods - a measure seen as key to avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
But the white paper is being seen in EU circles as a starting point in talks - and a late one at that - coming two years after the Brexit referendum.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night insisted that a no deal Brexit is not a likely outcome.
But he said: "We think it's prudent that every member state plan for the worst."
A senior Brussels source told the Irish Independent that white paper proposals for regulatory alignment in relation to goods were "significant" progress, pointing out that it is "essential to allow the free movement of goods on the island of Ireland".
However, "sticking points" remain and there is concern that the precarious nature of Mrs May's numbers in the House of Commons could ultimately be what scuppers a deal.
The Government relies on the support of the DUP and the Tories are divided on her proposals for a deal, with senior figures like Boris Johnson quitting the Cabinet.
The source said "The potential for a crash-out by the United Kingdom at the end of March 2019 is a real one.
"It would be very wise for all member states to be ready for the worst-case scenario."
The EU's negotiator Michel Barnier is set to sit down with his UK counterparts for renewed talks on Monday.
At the same time the EU is preparing a document to be circulated to member states urging them to increase preparations for a hard Brexit.
RTE reported details of the draft internal EU document, which outlines how the European Commission hopes to reach a deal but also recognises that talks can fail.
The document urges EU states to prepare contingencies for a hard Brexit in a range of areas including customs, aviation and financial services.