Civil Servants Stoke Project Fear 3.0, Claim Govt Preparing to Extend Brexit Transition over Coronavirus: Report

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Union Jack flags hang in parliament square on February 1, 2020 in London, England. Last night Brexit supporters celebrated at 11.00pm as the UK and Northern Ireland exited the European Union, 188 weeks after the referendum on June 23rd, 2016. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty …
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Civil servants speaking to the establishment media have claimed that Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 31st, 2020, due to disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The reports come as the government announced that full Brexit talks between London and Brussels have been put on hold, with the second round of negotiations scheduled to have begun on Wednesday. Last week it was announced that the face-to-face talks had been postponed, but it was expected that negotiations would continue over telephone or internet videoconferencing.

Such methods have recently been employed by the United States, the EU, and other members of the G7 when they held an emergency summit via videoconference on Monday to discuss the response to the pandemic.

Confirming talks would not be taking place in any format this week, a government spokesman told the BBC that both sides remain “fully committed to the negotiations” and that Johnson’s team is in talks with the European Commission over “the possibility of video conferencing or conference calls, and exploring flexibility in the structure in the coming weeks”.

“We expect to share a draft FTA (Free Trade Agreement) alongside the draft legal texts of a number of the standalone agreements in the near future still, as planned,” the spokesman added.

Labour politicians are attempting to revive Project Fear for its third iteration, demanding that the date the UK leaves the EU’s rules and institutions be extended or the economy could suffer, with coronavirus compounding the “shock” of a “no-deal Brexit”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that “if anything”, the pandemic demonstrates “the case for intensive diplomacy to get this deal done and move on and take the relationship [with the EU] to the next level”.

The establishment media has also been trying to breathe life into Project Fear 3.0, by quoting “Whitehall” sources who portend that the government is preparing to delay the exit. “Whitehall” is often used to refer to the Civil Service, which has been accused in recent years of anti-Brexit bias and which has come to be known as Britain’s own Deep State.

In a piece by the Remain-backing Financial Times entitled “Brexit Transition Deadline in Doubt as Talks Called off”, the financial newspaper reports that “Whitehall officials no longer believe the December 31 end date is set in stone”. The article continued:

A well-placed person in Whitehall said that while a delay was “not the case politically”, that may change if disruption continued. “If we can’t continue talks properly then we are in a different world,” the person said.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson told the FT that such claims were “not true”.

The Telegraph also said that “senior Whitehall sources” had told them that civil servants working on “no-deal” preparations have been moved onto coronavirus crisis management. The paper added:

Although a final decision has yet to be made by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, The Telegraph understands from highly-placed sources that the Government accepts it will need to seek an extension before the June deadline expires.

A Downing Street source told the newspaper that it was “totally untrue” that an extension was being considered, and that “no conversations” are being had about it. A government spokesman said that alternatives to face-to-face negotiations are being considered, stating: “The transition period ends on December 31, 2020. This is enshrined in UK law.”

Sufficient progress on a deal needs to be agreed by June — in the eventuality that both sides need to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario — but Mr Raab said in the Commons on Tuesday: “We’re confident that we can get this done and, actually, I don’t think delaying Brexit negotiations would give anyone the certainty on either side of the Channel that they need.”

While Brexiteer Tory MP David Davis said: “We are aiming towards a comprehensive free trade agreement along the lines promised by Donald Tusk and entrenched in the political declaration. If we achieve that, there is no need for concern.”

Asked whether the government is considering delaying the transition exit, Prime Minister Johnson said during Wednesday’s press conference: “There is legislation in place that I have no intention of changing.”

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