Brexit transition deadline remains despite coronavirus delay to talks
By David Hughes and Lewis McKenzie
Boris Johnson will not extend the Brexit transition period despite the coronavirus outbreak disrupting talks on a UK-EU trade deal.
The Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost and Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier were due to hold talks on Wednesday, although the prospect of face-to-face discussions had already been ruled out due to the virus.
A UK Government spokesman said they would not "formally be convening negotiating work strands tomorrow" but both sides remain "fully committed" to the talks process.
The spokesman stressed that the December 31 deadline for the end of the transition period was "enshrined in UK law".
"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," the spokesman said.
"We expect to share a draft FTA alongside the draft legal texts of a number of the standalone agreements in the near future still, as planned.
"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 December 31, 2020. This is enshrined in UK law."
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs that extending the transition period would not give the certainty that either side needed.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock told him: "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."
Before the talks were cancelled, Mr Raab said: "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."