Brexit negotiations during pandemic are ‘unwelcome and unnecessary distraction’

By Douglas Barrie, PA Scotland

The Scottish Government has reiterated calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to halt the UK Government’s Brexit negotiations and instead focus its efforts on tackling coronavirus.

Roseanna Cunningham raised the issue again ahead of an Inter-Ministerial Group for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs being hosted by the Scottish Government.

The meeting will be held by video conference as part of measures in place with Covid-19 cases on the rise across the UK.

As of Sunday 416 people in Scotland had tested positive, an increase of 43 from Saturday, while the number of deaths rose from seven to 10.

Ms Cunningham, Scotland’s Environment Secretary, said: “This is a truly unprecedented and distressing period for the entire country.

“All available government resource needs to be put towards tackling Covid-19 and mitigating its effects on almost every area of Scottish society.

“In this context, the Scottish Government feels that a Brexit Scotland did not vote for, and does not want, is an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction.

“Continuing to plough on could seriously harm our ability to tackle a virus which threatens lives and livelihoods across these islands.

“There is considerable scope to discuss the pressures of Covid-19 at today’s meeting, something which is very much welcome.

“However, the UK Government are determined to press on with leaving the EU at the end of the year.”

Mr Johnson has already refused to rule out an extension of the transition period during his daily coronavirus briefings.

The current deadline for Britain requesting such an extension to go beyond 2020 is July 1.

A trade deal is also supposed to be due by November 26 for ratification before the UK officially leaves the EU on December 31.

Ms Cunningham added: “A considerable amount of work is required to ensure this can be done in such a way that minimises the impact on the economy, people and the environment but the resources required for this activity should be devoted towards dealing with the current crisis.

“Furthermore, parliamentary timetabling cannot physically accommodate the work required to move forward the required legislation.

“We are therefore calling on the UK Defra Secretary of State to make the case in the UK Cabinet to halt current Brexit negotiations, which would allow us to refocus these Inter Ministerial Groups fully to co-ordinating and liaising across the four nations on our collective response to Covid-19.”

When Defra was contacted for comment, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office pointed to Mr Johnson’s Wednesday press conference in which he stated he had no intention of changing the legislation.