The second round of Brexit negotiations originally scheduled to take place in London from 18 – 20 March 2020 has been called off due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has tested positive for COVID-19 meaning his team and UK counterpart David Frost are all self-isolating. A negotiating timeframe that seemed improbably has become almost impossible as the pandemic takes hold in Europe.
With the two main negotiators out of action for the next two weeks at least, and ongoing uncertainty over the global pandemic, questions must be asked over whether a deal can be reached before the close of the transition period, currently scheduled to end on 31 December 2020. In the immediate term, the deadline over fishing rights which is currently set at 1 July 2020 is called into question as this has already been established as one of the most bruising topics on the table.
The UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak denied that the UK would delay the transition period because of COVID-19. An extension would need to be approved by 1 July by both sides and the pandemic has made the already fraught situation more demanding. London continues to insist that 31 December is the deadline The next few months will involve intense negotiations to find common ground while national governments struggle with COVI-19.
Michel Barnier said at the beginning of March that there were “very serious divergences” between the two sides. While the EU has sent a comprehensive draft proposal for a post transition period deal to London, the UK has only supplied partial texts in return. Virtual meetings will have their limitations for both sides as talks resume in the coming weeks.