Britain rules out extension to clinch post-Brexit deal
‘Extending would simply prolong negotiations ... it is not in the UK’s interest to extend’
Talks were thrown off course as negotiators have been unable to meet in person since early March. File photograph: Getty
Britain will not agree to an extension of its transition period to allow for more time to reach a deal on the post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, its chief negotiator insisted on Thursday.
“As we prepare for the next rounds of negotiations, I want to reiterate the government’s position on the transition period created following our withdrawal from the EU. Transition ends on 31 December this year. We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no,” said Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost.
“Extending would simply prolong negotiations, create even more uncertainty, leave us liable to pay more to the EU in future, and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs. In short, it is not in the UK’s interest to extend.”
The statement followed speculation that an extension was becoming difficult to avoid because of delays to an already-tight negotiating period due to the coronavirus pandemic, and worsening economic downturn.
Talks were thrown off course as negotiators have been unable to meet in person since early March. And talks were delayed after chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for the disease and members of both teams went into isolation.
This week negotiators announced they would try to reach a deal over videoconference, in three rounds of talks each lasting a week, to be held next week, in May and in June.
June is Britain’s last chance to ask for an extension to the transition period, under which Britain is continuing to trade with the EU on the same terms as before until the end of the year.
The end of the transition period is expected to be tough for the Irish economy, as checks and delays on trade between the island of Ireland and Britain are inevitable under the hard form of Brexit pursued by the government of prime minister Boris Johnson.
But if no deal is agreed by December 31st, Britain will automatically begin trading with EU states on World Trade Organisation rules, a change that is estimated to hit the Irish economy even harder.