MEPs urge UK to extend Brexit transition period due to coronavirus
The UK has been urged by MEPs to extend the Brexit transition period because of the coronavirus crisis.
Britain is due to cut all ties with the European Union, including following the rules of the single market and customs union, on 31 December.
But pressure is mounting on the UK Government to admit that the deadline will have to be pushed back as the COVID-19 outbreak hampers efforts to negotiate a trade deal before then.
Both the EU and UK chief negotiators, Michel Barnier and David Frost, have been forced into self-isolation by the virus.
Meanwhile, lockdowns in Brussels and the UK have meant that face-to-face talks have had to be abandoned.
The European People's Party, the EU's largest group of MEPs, has now called for the deadline to be extended.
Christophe Hansen MEP, a negotiator on the European Parliament's international trade committee, said: “Under these extraordinary circumstances, I cannot see how the UK Government would choose to expose itself to the double whammy of the coronavirus and the exit from the EU single market, which will inevitably add to the disruption, deal or no deal.
“I can only hope that common sense and substance will prevail over ideology. An extension of the transition period is the only responsible thing to do.”
And German MEP David McAlister said: “The coronavirus pandemic complicates the already very ambitious schedule.
“The EU has always been open to extending the transition period – the ball is now clearly in the British court.”
However, Downing Street insisted the 31 December cut-off date, which is now enshrined in UK law, will not be changed.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said both sides were aware of the deadline and were working towards it.
The first meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, which is made up of senior officials on both sides, took place by video conference on Monday.
In a statement, the UK Government said: “The UK and EU co-chairs both welcomed the collaborative and constructive conversation, despite circumstances preventing a meeting in person.”