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Brexit talks to continue, but EU wary on deadline

By BO LEUNG in London | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-10 09:21
A British Union Jack flag flutters outside of the European Parliament ahead of the vote on the Brexit deal in Brussels, Belgium, Jan 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Kingdom's chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, has said that he will continue talks with his counterpart from Brussels, Michel Barnier, despite the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.

Frost and Barnier will speak next week with the aim of setting a timetable for further discussions in April and May.

In a social media post, Frost said he wanted to "reassure everyone" contacts have been continuing with the European Union, despite the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.

"We have remained in touch throughout, both sides have exchanged legal texts, and last week we had a series of conference calls to explore and clarify technicalities," Frost said on Tuesday."The UK side will share further legal texts with the EU Commission shortly."

Barnier also took to social media confirming talks on Wednesday with his British counterpart."Our work at the EU Commission continues, even though we are living through difficult times. Next Wednesday, I will speak to David Frost to organize upcoming negotiation rounds," he said.

There have been calls to extend the UK's deadline date for reaching an agreement in light of the coronavirus crisis. The transition period, during which the UK follows EU laws, rules, and customs arrangements, is set to end on Dec 31.

However, Downing Street has insisted there will be no change to the deadline as this is enshrined in UK law.

Frost is in talks with the EU's deputy head of the task force Clara Martinez Alberola to organize work over the next few weeks, according to City AM.

"We remain absolutely committed to negotiations," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Two rounds of discussions, one scheduled in London and one in Brussels, have already been postponed. It is understood that the UK believes video link talks are possible, but the EU side is more sceptical, arguing that officials would still have to gather together on one side and risk infection, the Independent newspaper reported.

Last week, the center-right European People's Party, the largest group in the EU Parliament, called on the UK to delay its full and final exit from the bloc, saying the novel coronavirus outbreak has made it impossible to properly negotiate a deal.

If an agreement is not reached by the end of the year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would refuse to extend the transition period and move on to trading with the EU based on World Trade Organization rules, the BBC reported.

Top officials from both sides have been affected by the virus.

Johnson was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital in London earlier this week with the virus where his is currently in the intensive care unit, and the EU's Barnier tested positive for COVID-19 in March.

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