Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that there will be no extension of the Brexit transition period because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Negotiators announced earlier this week that planned face-to-face talks in London would be postponed whilst alternatives, including telephone and videoconferencing, would be explored.
When asked during Wednesday’s coronavirus press conference whether there were any plans to delay the UK’s exit from Brussels’ institutions and rules, Prime Minister Johnson said: “It’s not a subject that’s being regularly discussed, I can tell you, in Downing Street at the moment.”
“There is legislation in place that I have no intention of changing,” he stated in reference to the Brexit law passed in January which makes it illegal to extend the transition period beyond December 31st, 2020.
The remarks came after Labour Party figures called for the deadline to be extended because of coronavirus, and after civil servants have been briefing to the media against government policy by claiming that Boris Johnson’s government is considering delaying the exit.
Civil Servants Stoke Project Fear 3.0, Claim Govt Preparing to Extend Brexit Transition over Coronavirus: Report https://t.co/F4i1Dfm1Nt
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 19, 2020
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab denied that extending the transition period was being discussed and rejected the notion that it should be.
“If anything”, Mr Raab said, the coronavirus crisis demonstrates “the case for intensive diplomacy to get this deal done and move on and take the relationship [with the EU] to the next level”.
“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,” he added.
Former Brexit Party Member of European Parliament Ben Habib believes that coronavirus could, in fact, “strengthen the UK’s hand in negotiations”.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Habib, who is the chairman of Brexit Watch and has a background in business, said it would be “ridiculous” to believe that the government’s attention is so consumed by coronavirus that it cannot fulfil the Conservatives’ primary manifesto pledge to deliver on the vote of the British people from nearly four years ago.
“The Prime Minister himself is on the record saying that he would rather be dead in a ditch than not leave the EU. In the absence of finding a suitably sized ditch, he must not fail to fulfil the contract he entered into with the British people on 12 December 2019,” Mr Habib wrote.
Police Could Detain Britons Who Refuse Coronavirus Test Under Emergency Law https://t.co/qSJYQaIJGY
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 18, 2020
He continued that “Actually, as awful as the virus is, it strengthens the UK’s hand in negotiations,” saying that while both the EU and UK will be affected by the pandemic, the UK is in a far better position than the eurozone, with debt levels and unemployment rising in countries like Germany. Part of the reason for Britain’s survival is that the country retains its own currency and thus it is easier for the Bank of England to “inject the necessary stimulus when required”, unlike the European Central Bank, which Mr Habib has observed is yet to cut interest rates.
“The EU is now in no position to do anything but to give the UK a good trade deal and cease its ridiculous demands for the UK to remain locked into a level playing field with its restrictive burdensome regulatory set up. We must press home this advantage. We should not shamelessly exploit it to the detriment of Europe but we must use it to get a Canada style free trade deal,” he wrote.
He also warned that seeking an extension would be disastrous for negotiations as it would signal to the EU that the country is not prepared to leave without a deal, and as a result will do “irreparable damage in the negotiations”.