The spread of the coronavirus epidemic is set to derail post-Brexit trade talks between London and the EU, UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove admitted.
The second round of talks on future EU-UK relations are due to be held in London from 18-20 March next week. But with the number of coronavirus cases in London and Brussels having increased in recent days, and scientists forecasting a further increase in the coming days, Gove said the two sides were discussing the practicalities of holding the talks.
“It is a live question,” Gove told UK lawmakers at a hearing of the Future Relationship with the EU committee, adding that “we have had indications from Belgium today that there may be specific public health concerns.”
The volume of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has rapidly increased in recent days and has now claimed its first major sporting victim – a Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Arsenal. Two MPs, including Health Minister Nadine Dorries, are in self-isolation after Dorries confirmed on Tuesday that she had contracted the virus.
The coronavirus epidemic could also mean postponing the first meeting of the Joint Committee tasked with drawing up a regime to ensure that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which is currently scheduled for 30 March.
However, even if face-to-face talks are delayed, Gove once again flatly ruled out the prospect of any extension to the eleven-month transition period, during which the UK remains in the Single Market until 31 December.
Lisa Nandy, a candidate in the race for the leadership of the opposition Labour party, has already called for EU and UK negotiators to agree an extension in the light of the coronavirus epidemic. [...]
Full article on EurActiv
Related article on POLITICO: Can’t rule out delay to Brexit talks due to coronavirus, EU ambassador to UK says
Related article on The Guardian: Lisa Nandy: UK must extend Brexit transition period
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