EU open to two-year Brexit extension, says Michel Barnier

Sophie Morris, PA Political Reporter

The European Union is “open” to a two-year Brexit delay, chief negotiator Michel Barnier has confirmed.

In a letter to the Westminster leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party, Mr Barnier said the option of an extension to the Brexit transition period is available if the UK wants it.

But the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost told MPs the “firm policy” of the Government remains not to extend beyond the end of the year.

The leaders of these parties had written to Mr Barnier on May 15 calling for a two-year extension to be agreed between the UK and the EU amid a negotiation deadlock.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford welcomed the letter and called on Boris Johnson to accept the offer to help protect the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brexit transition began when the UK legally left the EU on January 31 and is due to conclude at the end of the year.

Mr Frost told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union on Wednesday: “That is the firm policy of the Government, that we will not extend the transition period and if asked we would not agree to it.”

In his letter, Mr Barnier said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.

“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.

“Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before July 1, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the United Kingdom.”

Responding to the letter, Mr Blackford said: “Boris Johnson must finally put his responsibilities to jobs, living standards and the economy first, and urgently agree the two-year extension on offer to the transition period.

“It would be madness to pile a Brexit crisis on top of the coronavirus crisis we already face – with unemployment soaring, businesses shedding jobs, and many struggling to survive.

“Time is running out. There is just a month left to agree an extension to prevent the UK crashing out with a devastating bad deal or a catastrophic no-deal.

“If the Prime Minister fails to agree an extension he will be responsible for every job lost, every income slashed, and every business that goes under as a result of his bad Brexit deal.

“The SNP will continue to press for a long extension to protect Scotland’s economy – but the only way to guarantee Scotland’s interests and protect our place at the heart of Europe is to become an independent country.”

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey added that it is “high time for the Conservative Government to think again” on the matter.

“The Prime Minister’s refusal now to even consider the possibility of an extension to the Brexit transition as we face an unprecedented global health and economic crisis shows he is recklessly putting his Brexit ideology before the UK’s national interest.

“It’s clear that an extension is possible and it’s high time for the Conservative Government to think again.

“Boris Johnson must put the national interest first and accept the need to extend the transition period. Otherwise he threatens to pitch the country into a chaotic no-deal Brexit, at a time when the economy is already in uncharted territory and millions are worried about their jobs and futures,” Sir Ed said.