Sadiq Khan urges Boris Johnson to seek extension to Brexit transition period

21 December 2020, 12:54

France closed off its border with the UK because of a new strain of covid
France closed off its border with the UK because of a new strain of covid. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged Boris Johnson to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period.

The Labour mayor said: "Securing our key supply chains and fighting the coronavirus pandemic requires the full and undivided efforts of ministers more than ever before.

"Risking the chaos and uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit was reckless even before the latest surge in Covid cases and the worrying news about this latest strain.

Read the latest developments LIVE as France closes border to UK

"With the virus spreading rapidly and our hospitals increasingly stretched, the only thing the country should be concentrating on is fighting the virus."

But Grant Shapps said earlier that extending the arrangements beyond December 31 would "add fuel to the fire" by adding extra uncertainty.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said it would be "unconscionable" to add a no-deal exit from the EU's trading arrangements to the current difficulties caused by the mutant coronavirus strain.

Trade has already been disrupted after France banned hauliers travelling from the UK due to fears over the spread of the more infectious strain of coronavirus.

Lead negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost met in Brussels on Sunday but a UK Government source said the discussions had been "difficult".

The source said "significant differences" remained over the key issues of fisheries and the so-called "level playing field rules" on state aid for business.

The European Parliament had said the talks needed to be concluded by Sunday evening if it was to ratify any deal before the current Brexit transition ends on December 31.

However, if there was to be a deal, under EU rules it could be provisionally signed off by leaders of the 27-member bloc with ratification delayed until 2021.

Earlier, Mr Barnier warned that Britain must be prepared to respect the EU's sovereignty if the talks were to succeed.

He said the EU remained committed to achieving "a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement" but said both sides needed to be able to act when their interests were at stake.

The British side has accused the EU of making "unreasonable demands" and of failing to respect UK sovereignty over fishing rights and fair competition rules.

If there is no deal by December 31, the UK will leave the single market and customs union and begin trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms - with the imposition of tariffs potentially leading to higher prices in shops.

Ms Sturgeon said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should try to get an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the discovery of a faster-spreading coronavirus strain that has caused European countries to halt flights and ferry crossings from the UK.

She tweeted: "It's now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period.

"The new Covid strain - & the various implications of it - means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention.

"It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit."