Clive Bull 1am - 4am
UK and EU agree on further Brexit talks amid coronavirus pandemic
15 April 2020, 20:14
The UK and the EU have agreed to further rounds of Brexit negotiations amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
British and European officials agreed to another three rounds of week-long trade deal discussions in order to make "real, tangible progress" before the end of June.
David Frost, the UK's chief negotiator, and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier will continue to hold talks via video-conference because of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Round one will commence on 20 April, with the other rounds following on 11 May and 1 June. A separate high-level meeting will take place later in June to review the progress made up to that point.
The two lead negotiators issued a joint statement on Wednesday - following a separate video-conference - confirming they had agreed to the three rounds of discussions.
🇪🇺🇬🇧 Good to speak with @DavidGHFrost today to organise next week’s negotiating round, via videoconference.— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) April 15, 2020
We need real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June. We must advance across all areas.https://t.co/FGN5ko7JcH pic.twitter.com/zXBMpF1L6c
Very happy to talk to @michelbarnier today and agree a refreshed timetable for UK / EU negotiations by videoconference - starting next week. We are both keen to make progress.https://t.co/eOqUq4pnXR pic.twitter.com/NHJeHH0dFV— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) April 15, 2020
They took stock of the technical work that had been done since the very first round of negotiations.
"While this work has been useful to identify all major areas of divergence and convergence, the two sides agreed on the need to organise further negotiating rounds in order to make real, tangible progress in the negotiations by June," the statement read.
"Given the ongoing coronavirus crisis, these negotiating rounds, the structure of which is set out in the terms of reference, will take place via video-conference."
The UK has until the end of June to seek an extension to the transition period under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, otherwise it will expire at the end of 2020 with No Deal being the automatic fallback option.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he will not seek to delay any longer than what has already been agreed, despite multiple warnings from Brussels and opposition UK parties that the Covid-19 pandemic will get in the way of negotiations.
Mr Frost reportedly underlined Mr Johnson's determination to stick to the current timetable during today's talks with Mr Barnier.
It comes as shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray on Wednesday called for an "immediate" extension to the Brexit transition period due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, Mr Murray said "this is not a time for constitutional politics", adding the government focus should be on tackling Covid-19.