Brexit negotiations delayed due to COVID-19 outbreak
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken its toll on business, sport, and individuals all over the world, whilst global markets teeter on the edge of a recession following the collapse of indices across the world. Brexit negotiations have now been added to the list of cancelled events after both EU and UK negotiators agreed that the risks associated with travelling to London were too high.
In a joint statement published this week, the negotiating teams confirmed that they are now exploring the possibility of hosting the negotiations via video conference. However, the complexity of doing so combined with the inability to have eye-to-eye discussions has led some to question whether it is worth holding the sessions in this manner.
The impact of the cancelled talks on trade negotiations may be profound. According to the Prime Minister’s statement on Thursday evening, the peak of the crisis is not yet upon us and the Health Minister Nadine Dorries became the first MP to contract the disease earlier in the week with a number of others now self-isolating.
Johnson has already ruled out the possibility of an extension to the negotiation period, and the timescales were already incredibly tight without looming negotiation cancellations. He had also previously stated that if significant progress is not made by June he would consider walking away from talks.
While the Prime Minister hasn’t voiced any change in opinion on this, reports in the media this week have claimed that both negotiating parties have agreed to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ while producing legal texts in order to facilitate a greater understanding of the two sides positions. Whilst Michael Gove, one of the most powerful Minsters on Brexit remained optimistic that progress would be made by June, the scale of the outbreak and severe impact this will have on populations on both sides of the channel, puts this position under further doubt. Furthermore, some have cast doubt on the UK Government’s ability to conduct negotiations whilst also dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the fast-moving nature of the crisis, it is currently impossible to predict what impact it will have on the Brexit negotiations.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 4th April: Result of the Labour Leadership Contest.
- June: UK cut off point for negotiations, depending on progress.
- 31st December: End of the transition period