Coronavirus Could Delay Brexit Talks, But Transition Won’t Be Extended, Says Minister

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove delivers his keynote speech on day two of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 2, 2017 in Manchester, England. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an extra GBP 300m to improve rail land …
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Michael Gove has said that he has had “indications” from Brussels that concerns over the coronavirus may mean London negotiations scheduled for next week may be delayed.

Some 150 Brussels delegates were expected to descend on London next Wednesday for three days of negotiations. The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the House of Commons’ Future Relationship with the European Union Committee on Wednesday that the first UK-EU joint committee planned for the end of this month has also been put into question.

“It’s a live question. We were looking forward to a joint committee in the UK on the 30th and we were also looking forward to the next stage of negotiations going ahead. But we have had indications today from Belgium there may be specific public health concerns, so I’ll keep the House and the Committee update on progress.” Mr Gove said.

The remarks came in response to EU ambassador to the UK João Vale de Almeida telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he could not rule out a delay to negotiations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Mr Gove insisted that the Brexit transition period will not be extended even if talks are delayed, saying categorically: “No, there won’t be any extension to the deadline.”

A Downing Street spokesman also confirmed in comments reported by POLITICO that there are no plans to delay negotiations and that “both sides are very well aware of the timetable they are working to”.

The UK officially left the EU on January 31st, 2020, but remains tied to the bloc’s trading rules and institutions during the transition period in which both sides seek to agree on a future trade deal. The prime minister’s withdrawal bill outlaws extending the transition period beyond December 31st, 2020.

The UK’s negotiating strategy also dictates that if sufficient progress is not made by this June, Johnson’s team will cease negotiating with Brussels and prepare for an orderly exit and trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization terms.

The left has already seized upon coronavirus as an excuse to delay leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, with Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy writing that the UK “must” extend the transition period because of the uncertainty over the economic effects of COVID-19.

However, in the government’s budget, the Tories have revealed that they have earmarked £12 billion to support workers, businesses, and society in the event that the outbreak’s spread is so great that it threatens to disrupt the economy — so leaving after the transition period can go ahead, after all.

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