British and EU negotiators have agreed to continue Brexit trade talks via videoconferencing due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
The UK’s senior negotiator David Frost and the EU’s counterpart Michel Barnier agreed in discussions on Wednesday to start the next round of negotiations in the week commencing the 20th of April, with the subsequent cycles to take place in the weeks beginning the 11th of May and the 1st of June.
“Given the ongoing coronavirus crisis, these negotiating rounds… will take place via videoconference,” the government confirmed in a statement.
The statement continued: “The two sides took stock of the technical work that has taken place since the first negotiating round on the basis of the legal texts exchanged by both sides.
“While this work has been useful to identify all major areas of divergence and convergence, the two sides agreed on the need to organise further negotiating rounds in order to make real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June.”
The government has said that if sufficient progress on a deal has not been made by June, then the UK would pull out of negotiations and use the following six months to prepare to move onto World Trade Organization (WTO) trade rules with the bloc.
Very happy to talk to @michelbarnier today and agree a refreshed timetable for UK / EU negotiations by videoconference – starting next week. We are both keen to make progress.https://t.co/eOqUq4pnXR pic.twitter.com/NHJeHH0dFV
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) April 15, 2020
Despite the pandemic locking down the United Kingdom and the Continent, the British government has stuck by the 31st of December, 2020, negotiations deadline.
Though the UK officially left the EU on the 31st of January, 2020, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage reminded supporters during Tuesday’s Facebook broadcast that “the job is not completely finished. I’ve noticed one or two in the Eurosceptic community saying, ‘Oh well, because of the [coronavirus] crisis, let’s just accept that it [Brexit] is going to be delayed.’
“No! We mustn’t accept that it’s going to be delayed. We must be absolutely free to chart our own way out of this and no part of the European investment bank and no liability if the eurozone collapses.”
British Europhiles and leftists, as well as European politicians, have tried to pressure the UK into extending the transition period into 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed on Monday: “We remain very committed to the timeline that we set out to conclude those by the end of this year.”
With regards to the progress of both parties agreeing on a free trade agreement, Mr Sunak added: “I am confident that work can continue and hopefully reach a satisfactory conclusion, but ultimately we remain committed to the timeline we have set out.”
While critics have sought to highlight perceived difficulties of holding teleconferences as a rationale for cancelling Brexit trade talks, virtual meetings have become the norm during the pandemic. Both the G7 and the much larger G20 have met online over video to discuss urgent matters including coronavirus in recent weeks. There is another virtual G7 summit on Thursday, at which First Secretary of State Dominic Raab will deputise for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is convalescing at Chequers after contracting severe coronavirus.
Farage: We Mustn’t Accept a Brexit Delay Because of Coronavirus https://t.co/XxNjqiLUyE
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 15, 2020