Coronavirus: This week’s Brexit talks cancelled – but no extension to deadline for trade deal

This week’s Brexit negotiations have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, although there will be no delay to the end of year deadline for the UK and EU to agree a trade deal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser, David Frost, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had been due to hold talks on Wednesday.

A face-to-face meeting had already been ruled out due to the spread of COVID-19, and now the UK government has said the two sides “will not formally be covening”.

The two sides “remain fully committed” to the negotiations and will consider alternative means of resuming negotiations, such as video conferencing, a spokesperson added.

The UK is currently in the Brexit transition period, where it maintains the status quo of EU membership despite having formally left the bloc on 31 January this year.

That period ends on 31 December and, despite the disruption caused by coronavirus, the UK government again ruled out any extension.

It means there are little more than nine months for both sides to agree a future trade relationship, with just one round of talks completed so far.

The UK still expects to share a draft free trade agreement, among other draft legal texts, “in the near future” as planned, the spokesperson said.

They added: “In light of the latest guidance on coronavirus, we will not formally be convening negotiating work strands tomorrow in the way we did in the previous round.

“Both sides remain fully committed to the negotiations and we remain in regular contact with the European Commission to consider alternative ways to continue discussions, including looking at the possibility of video conferencing or conference calls, and exploring flexibility in the structure for the coming weeks.

“The transition period ends on 31 December 2020. This is enshrined in UK law.”

Following the first round of negotiations at the beginning of this month, both the UK and EU admitted there were “significant” and “very, very difficult” differences between them.

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