EU’s Top Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier Tests Positive for Coronavirus

European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with Britain Michel Barnier gives a press conference as he reports on the first round of EU-Britain negociations at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 5, 2020. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP via Getty Images)
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The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has self-isolated after being diagnosed with the Chinese coronavirus, making the chances of the presently suspended Brexit negotiations continuing in the near future more remote.

Posting to social media to announce his self-isolation on Thursday, Mr Barnier, 69, said that he was “fine” and in good spirits and following the medical advice after his coronavirus diagnosis.

Michel Barnier has led the European Union’s Brexit negotiation team since 2016, and has frequently met with his opposite number, British lead negotiator David Frost, 55.

Barnier has consistently played “hard-ball” with the United Kingdom, repeatedly making clear he regrets Brexit and expressing his desire for the country to either not depart or return in the future.

His hard line pronouncements haven’t always proven correct in reality, however. In light of Prime Minister Theresa May standing down as Prime Minister in 2019, Mr Barnier said the agreement she’d signed with Europe — which was very advantageous to Brussels — couldn’t be renegotiated by a subsequent Prime Minister.

That later proved to be incorrect.

 

The European Union’s present position, as articulated by Mr Barnier, is that the United Kingdom cannot leave the bloc in any meaningful sense unless it agrees to continue accepting EU rules and regulations. The position makes the British leaving on “no deal” terms more likely, as continuing to be subject to EU laws and courts would be regarded as a betrayal of the spirit of the 2016 referendum by Brexiteers.

Negotiations were due to resume this week on Wednesday, but were delayed as negotiators were unable to travel and meet in person. It had been announced that talks were to continue through teleconferencing and Internet facilities, but this does not seem to have yet happened.

A British government spokesman said that they nontheless remained “fully committed to the negotiations” and that talks were ongoing about “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, in comments reported by Breitbart London on Thursday.

Anti-Brexiteers on the British political scene have been quick to grab on to coronavirus as the latest pretext to prevent or slow the United Kingdom breeaking away from the European Union.

While the government has repeatedly expressed its desire to push on with Britain leaving the European Union at the end of this year, as promised to the British people, leading figures in the Labour party have demanded an extension to the ongoing Brexit-in-name-only transition period be sought immediately.

After days of rumours, the Prime Minister addressed the claims head-on on Wednesday afternoon at the regular coronavirus press conference, telling the press: “it’s not a subject that’s being regularly discussed, I can tell you, in Downing Street at the moment… There is legislation in place that I have no intention of changing” — a reference to the Brexit law passed in January which set the December 31st, 2020 end date of the transition period.

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