The government has acknowledged in private diplomatic letters to every EU capital that a “no-deal” Brexit may mean “practical changes” need to be negotiated with each EU capital “in order to continue existing air service and road transport arrangements”.
It says bilateral deals are required “as soon as possible… in the interests of public safety”.
The letter, dated from last week and obtained by Sky News, is one of 27 sent by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to fellow European transport ministers as part of an attempt to reach around the Brussels negotiations and strike a series of “no-deal” agreements with individual member states.
It is the clearest acknowledgement that the government does see a risk to continuity of transport services after Brexit, unless there is a deal, or over two dozen separate “no-deal” deals with EU capitals, for which talks have not even begun.
EU sources who have seen the letter say it has been received frostily.
A senior Brussels source suggested to Sky News that the letters would “undermine withdrawal agreement” talks by attempting to negotiate parallel “no-deal” deals.
“There is no need for them,” said one, saying that unilateral contingency measures on both sides would be the result of a failure to reach a deal.
The letter dated 5 September says: “It is in the interest of all Member States, the EU and the UK that air services and road transport continue after the UK has left the EU”.
It cites the Barnier team’s own call for stakeholders to take “no-deal” preparedness actions, in the wake of the last European Council summit in the summer.
Mr Grayling then writes: “I am therefore writing to propose that our respective officials meet to discuss the practical changes that may be needed in order to continue existing air service and road transport arrangements between our two countries in the unlikely event of a ‘no-deal’ scenario”.
It makes individualised cases for bilateral cooperation based on the numbers of passengers, vehicles and the economic growth, pointing out that “air services facilitate important family and cultural links”, and that 80% of freight transported by lorries between the UK and the continent “are operated by EU hauliers”.
“Our shared aim should be to provide early reassurance to our aviation and road transport industries and consumers that in any scenario air and road transport services between our two countries can continue,” he wrote.
The Transport Secretary also implored his EU colleagues to press for immediate talks on aviation safety.
“I consider it essential that direct technical discussions take place between the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and EASA as soon as possible to ensure that their respective contingency plans are aligned,” he wrote.
He asked for an “understanding” that both the UK and the EU member state would be allowed “to be able to authorise each other’s carriers”.
“In particular this would need to cover UK carriers applying for Part-Third Country Operator authorisation, transferring certification programmes to the CAA, and cooperation in the interests of public safety,” Mr Grayling said.
On Tuesday, Sky News revealed internal documents on preparedness for air certification and safety, and arrangements for pilots.
The aerospace industry has also written to the European Commission to implore them to allow talks between the CAA and EASA on a “no-deal” Brexit.