Brexit transition period will not be extended because of coronavirus, says government

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
An EU Flag flown by an anti-Brexit protester is seen with a Union Flag set on a flag pole in Parliament sq1uare in front of the Houses of Parliament in London on January 30, 2020. - Britain will leave the European Union formally at 2300GMT on January 31, 2020. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The British government insists coronavirus will not delay Brexit (AFP via Getty Images)

The government has insisted it has no plans to extend the Brexit transition period because of coronavirus.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that the UK intends to come out of the European Union at the end of this year as scheduled.

The transition period is due to end on 31 December, during which the UK will remain in the EU customs union and single market.

On Tuesday, the British Chamber of Commerce warned that coronavirus will further weaken the UK economy this year, along with Brexit.

There have been calls for Boris Johnson to extend the transition period while Europe fights the coronavirus pandemic.

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But Raab said: “I think that, as far as I’m aware, the negotiations can still proceed given all of the logistical arrangements that have been put in place.

“We’re confident that we can get this done and, actually, I don’t think delaying Brexit negotiations would give anyone the certainty on either side of the Channel that they need.”

He was responding to a question in the Commons from Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who said that current negotiations between the UK and the EU are absorbing a “tremendous amount of government time and attention”.

Kinnock said: “Could I just press (Mr Raab) on this issue of the talks on the future relationship with the European Union?

“They’re incredibly complex and multifaceted talks, they’re absorbing a tremendous amount of government time and attention.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaking in the House of Commons in London, where he told MP that the Foreign Office is advising against all non-essential foreign travel for an initial period of 30 days. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that Brexit is going ahead as scheduled (PA Images via Getty Images)

“Rather than trying to fight this war on two fronts, if you like, and stretching government bandwidth to breaking point, surely the time is now coming to request an extension to the transition period and it’s better to do that than to put ideology ahead of the health and safety of the British people.”

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Raab responded: “I’m sure (Mr Kinnock) would never put his ideological desire to stay in the EU ahead of the practical diplomacy that we face in the months ahead.

“But I understand why he’s asked the question.”

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On Tuesday, Labour MP David Lammy urged the prime minister to seek an extension to the transition period.

He tweeted: “No more government time, energy or resources should be wasted on Brexit this year.

“Boris Johnson must ask for an extension to the transition period immediately. #COVID19 is a global emergency.”

Earlier, former foreign secretary David Miliband, now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, criticised a lack of international co-ordination to tackle the coronavirus and warned that Brexit and US president Donald Trump "multiplies the dangers".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm afraid it speaks to the age that we're in that there really is no international co-ordination of an effective kind at the moment - it's each country for itself and often it feels like each family for itself.

"That, of course, heightens the danger."