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MEPs approve no-deal preparations, but still favour Brexit agreement

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By Euronews
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A general view through the door of the hemicycle ahead of a debate on the future of the relation between the EU/UK at a plenary session of the Parliament in Brussels 18/12/20
A general view through the door of the hemicycle ahead of a debate on the future of the relation between the EU/UK at a plenary session of the Parliament in Brussels 18/12/20   -   Copyright  OLIVIER HOSLET/AFP
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MEPs voted in favour of the European Commission's contingency measures on Friday, which are aimed at mitigating the fallout from a no-deal Brexit.

The plans for a possible scenario where no agreement is reached will help prevent disruption in road and air transport and also to extend the existing fisheries authorisations.

The temporary rules will ensure certain services between the UK and the EU continue for a maximum of six months. This includes rights for UK and EU air carriers to continue to fly over and make technical stops on EU territory, as well as serve direct routes to the EU. A limited number of specific pandemic-related cargo flights will be allowed also.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier said during the debate: "It's the moment of truth. We have very little time remaining. Just a few hours to work through these negotiations if you want this agreement to enter into force on January 1."

But he added: "We want to balance rights and obligations, and reciprocity. Nothing more, nothing less."

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson had his own words on Friday too: "The UK, we have done a lot to try to help," he said. "And we hope that our EU friends will see sense and come to the table with something themselves. That is really where we are."

The main problem now though, appears to be with fisheries.

Britain wants to cut the number of fish that European boats can take out of its waters by well over half, which the EU considers to be too much.

London is committed to renegotiating the quotas annually, but the EU would prefer a long-term agreement.

Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourgish MEP who is a member of the Parliament's UK Coordination Group in charge of Brexit, told Euronews that a deal on fisheries is key. He said: "Without this access of course it would mean the end of the fisheries communities because they just can't do their jobs anymore. And therefore, it is very important that we manage to get a long-term agreement to give security and planning for our fishermen because there is a lot of investment."

The European Parliament has issued a new ultimatum to negotiators to strike a deal by Sunday so that it can ratify any deal before the end of the year. They expect the document to run up to 700 hundred pages or more, which will require some time for legislators to scrutinise.

"We are ready to be as flexible as possible, but we need of course time to scrutinise everything," Bernd Lange, a German MEP, who also sits on the UK Coordination Group, explained to Euronews.

London and Brussels both say they're working to mitigate the impact of a no-deal, without an agreement, trade disruption is likely to be immense.

Parliament does, however, hope for an agreement with the UK.

During Friday's debate, almost all speakers stressed that the Parliament prefers to sign a deal with the UK, but not at the cost of endangering the integrity of the single market.

They also stressed that the deal on offer from the EU is unprecedented in its scope and its offer of no tariffs and quotas, but in exchange, the UK needs to respect fair competition rules.