PARIS: The French government on Friday (Jan 25) urged companies to start planning in earnest for Britain to crash out of the European Union without a divorce deal, advising them to seek out new potential business partners.
In a 28-page advice booklet, the government said firms using British suppliers or sub-contractors should already be looking for alternatives.
And companies in specialist sectors operating under EU rules, such as pharmaceutical firms, were told they should consider moving their British operations back onto the European continent.
Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau told reporters that French companies should be operating under the British wartime adage to "keep calm and carry on".
"Let's not panic, but let's prepare for different scenarios," she said.
France, like other EU countries, is bracing for a potentially calamitous British exit on Mar 29 after the parliament in London resoundingly rejected a deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Junior Finance Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said France was "hoping for the best but planning for the worst".
In the event of a so-called "no deal", Britain would be treated as a third-party country with no existing trade agreement with the EU.
As one of Britain's closest neighbours, France has been taking such a prospect seriously, activating a "no deal" plan that unlocks up to €50 million (US$57 million) for bolstering security at ports and airports.
It has begun recruiting an additional 740 customs officials and veterinary inspectors, while passing legislation that allows for emergency decrees in the event of a "no deal".
With just 63 days to go until Britain's scheduled exit, Pannier-Runacher warned that a no deal would fling France "into an unprecedented situation with a major trading partner".
The advice warns French companies with staff in Britain to work out how it will affect matters such as social security contributions, and to possibly revert to using temporary workers.
Firms should consider transferring financial services contracts to EU countries, and withdrawing confidential data held within Britain.
And French companies working alongside British partners on EU-funded projects should now be looking elsewhere, the advice says.
Loiseau said that while France would seek a post-Brexit relationship with Britain that was "close and mutually beneficial", it would inevitably be a relationship that has been "downgraded".
"There is no relationship more simple, more profitable, more complete - between businesses, between citizens - than being a member of the European Union," she said.
French officials are planning to hold around 30 meetings around the country to help local businesses deal with the Brexit fallout.
Some 30,000 French companies currently export to Britain - tariff-free as part of the EU's customs union.
These exports make up around three percent of France's annual output.