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Picardo on Brexit extension: ‘It wouldn't take a magician to read my mind’

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo left little doubt yesterday that he has urged the UK Government not to rule out extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of the year given the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Asked about this at the daily 4pm press conference, Mr Picardo confirmed he had made his views clear to Boris Johnson’s administration, though he declined to expand on the issue out of respect for the confidentiality of that discussion.

But Mr Picardo, who staunchly defended the Remain position during the Brexit saga and believes the EU is a force for good, left little doubt as to what his message had been.

“Because I’ve made my views clear to the administration in the United Kingdom, I’m not going to be sharing the views that I’ve already put forward until the decision is finally made in respect of this matter,” he said.

“I know that things have been said about the attitude of the United Kingdom by officials but the position does not fall to be determined until the end of June, which is the period under the treaty by which we will have to make an announcement of the final agreement between the EU and the UK on whether or not there should be an extension of the period of negotiation of the new arrangements.” 

“I think at that time we will either have had an agreement or have made sufficient progress in respect of an agreement, or be expressing publicly what our views are.” 

And he added: “It wouldn't take a magician to read my mind, I imagine.”

The Chief Minister was commenting after Downing Street this week rebuffed an appeal by the head of the International Monetary Fund not to rule out an extension to the Brexit transition period.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the global financial watchdog, urged the UK and the EU not to add to the global “uncertainty” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic by refusing to allow more time for talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Britain needed to be free of EU rules to allow it the “flexibility” to manage its response to the coronavirus outbreak, adding that extending the transition period would itself create more uncertainty.

“We will not ask to extend the transition period and if the EU asks we will say ‘no’,” the spokesman said.

“Extending the transition would simply prolong the negotiations, prolong business uncertainty, and delay the moment of control of our borders.”

“It would also keep us bound by EU legislation at a point when we need legislative and economic flexibility to manage the UK response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels, the transition period – during which the UK, and by extension Gibraltar, remains under the umbrella of EU rights and obligations – is due to end at the end of the year.

It is open to Britain to request an extension if it believes more time is needed to secure a comprehensive trade deal covering its future relationship with Brussels.

Senior figures in Brussels, as well as opposition parties in the UK, have warned that the pandemic means it will now be all but impossible to achieve an agreement within that timeframe.

However, Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he will not seek an extension.

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