Brexit deadline should be pushed back because of coronavirus, Lib Dems say

Will Taylor
News Reporter
Ed Davey has called on Boris Johnson to pause post-Brexit talks to fight coronavirus. (PA Images)

Boris Johnson has been told to push back his own deadline to agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and focus on fighting the coronavirus.

Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the prime minister should “wake up and do what’s wise”.

He said the government was incapable of dealing with the coronavirus, flooding and complicated trade negotiations at the same time.

Read more: Disinfect your phone twice a day to stop spread of coronavirus, expert says

Davey called on the government to extend the Brexit transition period – meaning the UK would need to continue accepting EU rules – put trade talks on hold, and concentrate on dealing with the virus.

His call came as Boris Johnson convened an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss a plan for coronavirus.

The PM, who has been criticised for not calling a Cobra meeting sooner, said the spread of the coronavirus was “likely” to become “more significant” for the UK in the coming days.

Read more: Should humans limit contact with animals to prevent further coronavirus outbreaks?

He said: “We have also agreed a plan so that if and when it starts to spread, as I’m afraid it looks likely it will, we are in a position to take the steps necessary to… contain the spread of the disease as far as we can, and to protect the most vulnerable.

“We will be announcing that plan not just tomorrow but in the days and weeks ahead as the thing develops.”

Boris Johnson visits the command centre at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, north London. (PA Images)

Any decisions to close schools and ban mass gatherings will be taken upon scientific advice, he said.

“All four nations of the UK and the chief medical officers are involved in this and they will be helping us to take key decisions on when and how to take protective steps,” he added.

Read more: In pictures: Venice deserted as coronavirus fears sweep Italy

“We cannot forget that the single most useful thing that we can all do to support the NHS is to wash our hands, two times to Happy Birthday with hot water.

“It’s very important that people should continue [doing] that and they should go about business as usual.”

The total number of UK coronavirus cases is up to 40, with a handful of those people infected having had no recent travel history, raising fears the virus is being passed on more easily domestically.