Boris Johnson is adamant the Brexit transition period will close at the end of December, despite the risk of the Covid-19 crisis disrupting negotiations, his spokesman has said.
Face-to-face talks which were to take place in London next week had been called off as a result of the outbreak, with officials exploring possible alternatives, such as video-conferencing.
When Johnson’s spokesman was asked whether the status quo transition period might need to be extended as a result, he said simply: “No”, then added: “In UK law, a request for an extension is not possible”.
When the government passed the EU withdrawal agreement in December, it added a commitment that the transition period would not be lengthened.
Pressed on whether that meant the government was prepared to leave without a trade deal if the negotiations were interrupted by virus prevention measures, the spokesman said: “It will be possible to do the trade talks. Both the UK and the EU are fully aware of the timetable which we’re working towards.”
He said both sides had committed to finding alternative ways to continue the negotiations, and were working closely together to achieve this.
“The discussions can take place using an alternative forum, such as video-conferencing,” he said. “Video-conferencing is something which is used throughout the world, and business.”
The government still expected to share a draft agreement with EU negotiators before the next round of talks, he said.
The negotiations, led by Johnson’s EU adviser, David Frost, involve more than 100 officials. During the transition period, the UK remains subject to EU rules and institutions, and continues to pay into its budget. This is to be replaced at the end of the year with an agreement on the future relationship, including on trade and security.
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