Coronavirus could force Brexit transition period to be extended

Pedro Gonçalves
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Coronavirus could force Brexit transition period to be extended

The coronavirus virus pandemic is likely to increase the chances of the UK asking to delay Brexit past the end of the year, according to analysts.

There are concerns that the peak of the disease in the UK could coincide with critical negotiation deadlines. June is the final month for Britain to ask for an extension beyond this year.

Pieter Cleppe, formerly of the Open Europe think tank, told Express.co.uk: "It is too early to tell, but it does increase the chance the UK will request an extension after all, given the already strained resources of the government."

It is too early to tell, but it does increase the chance the UK will request an extension after all, given the already strained resources of the government"

Trade expert David Henig told The Guardian: "I don't see how you can realistically, by the end of June, make a decision on how trade talks are going," he said. "You would be doing it with a lot of people under pressure, dealing with something that really is an arbitrary deadline. This is the classic force majeure cause - an unforeseen circumstance of the extreme degree.

"This should apply to both sides. The Italians are practically completely in lockdown. They have stopped having all but essential meetings in Brussels. It's a bit of a game of chicken, with neither side wanting to say they can't cope with it. An extension could be offered on whatever strict terms."

Boris Johnson, however, has insisted there will be no change to the transition period - during which the UK follows EU regulations, including its free movement laws. It is scheduled to finish at the end of the year.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham. and former Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills urged the government to rethink its position. "Boris Johnson needs to swallow his pride and put the national interest first," he tweeted. 

Matthew O'Toole, a former adviser to Theresa May who is now an SDLP politician in Northern Ireland's assembly, agreed. "Right now, I'm loth to even mention Brexit," he tweeted. "But, as of today, the UK government is still ruling out extending transition. That is lunatic. The world will soon be recovering from a huge economic shock. No one - not the EU or even Trump's US - will have time for Brexiter fantasies," The Guardian first reported.

The next round of post-Brexit trade talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union have already been cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis.

In a joint statement, negotiators from both sides said the talks could not go ahead as planned.

"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," they said in a statement.

However, they added that "Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences."