The immediate consequences of a “no deal” Brexit in March could be worse for the European Union than for Britain, senior Brussels figures have said.

Officials working for the European Commission have been given the task of drawing up contingency plans to be unveiled early next year in the event that Brexit negotiations collapse or fail to be ratified. Under the plans being co-ordinated by Martin Selmayr, the commission’s secretary-general, the EU would take unilateral measures to keep trade links open and aircraft flying immediately after a “chaotic” Brexit.

Concern is growing in Brussels, however, over whether EU institutions could act swiftly enough. In particular officials are worried that many decisions would require the unilateral endorsement of all member states as well as the European parliament. Moves would also have to be compatible with European treaties and could be challenged in the Court of Justice.

The situation has been complicated by the timetabling of European parliamentary elections scheduled for May. The current parliament is due to disband three weeks after Brexit and the new one will not meet until the start of July. The summer will also be the start of haggling to replace the current group of EU commissioners, whose term expires in October next year.

Officials fear that the political vacuum will make it hard for the EU to respond quickly to any unexpected consequences or legal ramifications if a transition period is not agreed. There are also concerns that if a deal cannot be completed then the unity shown so far by the remaining 27 member states will break down with individual countries with strong trading relations with the UK breaking ranks to demand a softer approach. “It will be very difficult to co-operate,” a senior EU official said. “In most areas where we will need to act there will be national vetoes in play. All countries will be able to block.”

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