Downing Street insists coronavirus will not derail Brexit trade talks

Downing Street insists coronavirus will not derail Brexit trade talks

March 13, 2020

Downing Street insists coronavirus will not derail trade talks with the EU and vows Boris Johnson will not extend the Brexit transition period beyond 2020

  • Trade talks between EU/UK were supposed to take place in London next week
  • That face-to-face meeting has been cancelled but there could be video talks  
  • Growing speculation coronavirus could force Brexit transition period extension
  • But No10 categorically ruled out delay, insisting deal by end of 2020 is possible 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Downing Street today insisted the deadly coronavirus outbreak will not derail trade talks with the EU, vowing the Brexit transition period will not be extended. 

The UK split from Brussels on January 31 this year with the two sides entering a ‘standstill’ transition period lasting until the end of 2020 during which a trade deal is supposed to be agreed. 

The disruption caused by the worsening pandemic has prompted growing speculation that the current timetable for talks will have to be pushed back. 

But Number 10 said Boris Johnson still believes a comprehensive trade deal can be struck between the two sides by December 31. 

The claim comes after planned face-to-face talks in London next week were cancelled, with the UK and EU now exploring the possibility of conducting the discussions remotely, using video conferencing technology. 

Downing Street today insisted Boris Johnson, pictured yesterday, will not agree to an extension of the Brexit transition period despite coronavirus disruption

The Brexit divorce deal which took the UK out of the bloc earlier this year does include a transition period pressure valve. 

It allows the transition period, during which the UK must abide by all EU rules, to be extended but only if both sides agree to the move. 

The deal states that a decision on any extension must be taken by the middle of this year. 

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman today categorically ruled out pushing back the talks deadline, raising the prospect of the two sides going their separate ways at the end of the year without having a complete deal set in stone. 

The spokesman said: ‘It will be possible to do the trade talks. 

‘Both the EU and the UK are fully aware of the timetable which they are working towards.’ 

The spokesman said the Prime Minister is ‘fully confident’ the UK will have the resources and capability to conduct trade talks even during the expected peak of the coronavirus outbreak.  

Asked if the end of 2020 deadline was feasible given the global pandemic, the PM’s spokesman simply replied: ‘Yes.’ 

And on the possibility of the EU and UK delaying making a decision on an extension until later in the year, the spokesman said: ‘Not happening.’

Numerous senior EU figures, including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said before the coronavirus outbreak that the end of 2020 Brexit talks timetable was not achievable. 

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission pictured in Brussels today, warned even before the coronavirus outbreak that the EU did not believe a trade deal could be struck by the end of 2020 

The two sides issued a joint statement yesterday saying the second round of negotiations would not be going ahead as planned. 

The statement said: ‘Given the latest COVID-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.

‘Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences.’

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