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MEPs call on Johnson to seek more time for post-Brexit trade deal

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Boris Johnson is coming under renewed pressure to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

The biggest grouping in the European Parliament has warned the UK will face a “double whammy” if the Prime Minister insists on ending Britain’s compliance with EU single market rules at the end of the year.

The warning echoes calls from opposition parties in the UK who argue the Government must now seek more time for trade talks to continue.

Mr Johnson has been adamant he will not request any extension to the transition period beyond December 31, arguing it should be possible to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement by then.

However the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) said the coronavirus epidemic further complicated what many in Brussels regard as an unrealistically tight timetable for securing a deal.

MEP Christophe Hansen, a negotiator on the parliament’s international trade committee, said: “Under these extraordinary circumstances, I cannot see how the UK Government would choose to expose itself to the double whammy of the coronavirus and the exit from the EU single market, which will inevitably add to the disruption, deal or no deal.

“I can only hope that common sense and substance will prevail over ideology. An extension of the transition period is the only responsible thing to do.”

The warning comes as the EU-UK joint committee set up to implement the Withdrawal Agreement was set to meet for the first time.

Because of the outbreak, the talks will take place by video conference, with the British side led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the EU by European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is reportedly continuing to convalesce after contracting the disease earlier this month.

German MEP David McAllister, who chairs the UK co-ordination group in the parliament, said now was the time for the UK to change tack over an extension to the transition.

“The coronavirus pandemic complicates the already very ambitious schedule,” he said.

“The EU has always been open to extending the transition period. The ball is now clearly in the British court.

“The United Kingdom would have to submit an official request. So far, the UK Government has constantly rejected such an option.

“Under the current circumstances, London should carefully re-examine a prolongation.”

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