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Coronavirus: Post-Brexit trade talks fall victim to Covid-19 outbreak as negotiations cancelled



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London and Brussels could be forced to use video-conferencing

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 9:11 pm

Updated Thursday, 12th March 2020, 9:13 pmMinisters attend the first round of Brexit talks in Brussels (Photo: OLIVIER HOSLET/AFP/Getty)

Around 100 European Union negotiators had been due to travel to Whitehall next week for renewed talks with their British counterparts.

The i politics newsletter cut through the noise

The i politics newsletter cut through the noise

The session was scrapped on Thursday night and, although the two sides said conference calls could be set up, the cancellation is an early setback to efforts to find common ground.

Britain has said it wants to see firm progress by June with the aim of completing a deal by September. It insists it will not extend the post-Brexit transition period which expires on 31 December.

Joint decision

The EU and UK negotiating teams said in a statement: “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.”

‘There is absolutely no need to extend the transition period’, said Jacob Rees-Mogg (Photo: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty)

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, has insisted there is no prospect of reconsidering the talks timetable in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Labour MP Justin Madders told him: “I do wonder whether there is going to be sufficient capacity in the system to finalise our new trading arrangements with the EU.

‘No change’ to transition period

“So I ask you in all sincerity whether in these circumstances it is appropriate to begin considering an extension to the transition period?”

Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “There is absolutely no need to extend the transition period.”

The first four-day session took place in Brussels earlier this month, with four subsequent rounds planned over the next three months. They cover 11 different subject areas including trade in goods, fisheries, transport and security.

The final meetings are due to wrap up on 16 May when the negotiators should have a realistic view of whether a deal is feasible.

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