Michel Barnier says the EU is 'open to two-year Brexit extension'

27 May 2020, 14:50

Michel Barnier wrote to Westminster leaders
Michel Barnier wrote to Westminster leaders. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has written to Westminster leaders saying the EU is "open" to a two-year Brexit delay.

In the open letter, which was sent to the Westminster leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party, Mr Barnier said the option of an extension to the Brexit transition period is available if the UK wants it.

It comes after the leaders of these parties previously wrote to Mr Barnier on May 15 calling for a two-year extension to be agreed between the UK and the EU amid the growing negotiations deadlock.

The Brexit transition began when the UK legally left the EU on January 31 and is due to conclude at the end of the year, with the Government stating repeatedly that the transition period will not be extended beyond December 31.

In his letter on Wednesday, Mr Barnier said: "Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.

"The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.

"Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before July 1, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the United Kingdom."

Michel Barnier sent the letter to Westminster leaders
Michel Barnier sent the letter to Westminster leaders. Picture: Twitter

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford welcomed the letter and called on Boris Johnson to accept the offer to help protect the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to the letter, Mr Blackford said: "Boris Johnson must finally put his responsibilities to jobs, living standards and the economy first - and urgently agree the two-year extension on offer to the transition period.

"It would be madness to pile a Brexit crisis on top of the coronavirus crisis we already face - with unemployment soaring, businesses shedding jobs, and many struggling to survive.

"Time is running out. There is just a month left to agree an extension to prevent the UK crashing out with a devastating bad deal or a catastrophic No-Deal.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has thrown his support behind the letter
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has thrown his support behind the letter. Picture: PA

He continued: "If the Prime Minister fails to agree an extension he will be responsible for every job lost, every income slashed, and every business that goes under as a result of his bad Brexit deal.

"The SNP will continue to press for a long extension to protect Scotland's economy - but the only way to guarantee Scotland's interests and protect our place at the heart of Europe is to become an independent country."

The Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran urged Mr Johnson to "put his pride aside" and agree to an extension of the transition period.

She said: "The transition period was designed to give us time to secure a trade deal and make preparations for it to come into effect.

"That time has already, and understandably, been decimated by the Coronavirus response. This makes a dangerous No-Deal Brexit more likely at the end of the year, unless we extend the transition period.

"I am urging the Prime Minister to put his pride aside, tackle the crisis in front of him and take the extension he's being offered."

Currently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will take part in top-level talks next month on the UK's future trade relationship with the EU, MPs have been told.

Speaking to the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, the UK's chief negotiator with Brussels David Frost said: "The expectation on both sides is that these are done at leader level.

"And, therefore, yes, the Prime Minister would attend."

Mr Frost was speaking after the third round of talks with the EU on future trade relationships.

Mr Frost told MPs the "firm policy" of the Government was that it would not extend the Brexit transition period beyond the end of the year.

"That is the firm policy of the Government that we will not extend transition period and if asked we would not agree to it," he said.

"And, I take that as a given.

"I think we have always put a lot of emphasis on economic and political freedom at the end of this year and on avoiding ongoing significant payments into the EU budget.

"And, of course, those things are accomplished by ending the transition period at the end of the year."

Mr Frost also said the UK believes the EU's approach "in key areas is not a mandate that is likely to produce an agreement that can be agreed with us".

He told the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee: "If you're asking do we think the EU needs to evolve its position to reach an agreement? Yes, we do."

Asked about the role of Dominic Cummings in the Brexit negotiations, Mr Frost said he had never been given an instruction by Mr Johnson's chief adviser.

Conservative MP Peter Bone asked: "What's your relationship with Dominic Cummings, do you have to report to him?

"Because he seemed to say this weekend that he was the gatekeeper to the Prime Minister and he decided who spoke to the Prime Minister about what.

"I mean, are you more senior to him or do you have to go through him?"

Mr Frost responded: "I report to the Prime Minister on the conduct of these negotiations and to the committee.

"What I can say is I've never had an instruction on these negotiations from Mr Cummings and I don't think he would expect to give me one.

"He regards me as responsible for the negotiations because the Prime Minister gave me that task."

Mr Frost appeared to dismiss a suggestion that the UK Government's Brexit policy could "collapse" without Mr Cummings' involvement.

Mr Bone asked: "Do you think the whole of the Brexit policy would collapse if Mr Cummings wasn't there?"

Mr Frost replied: "The Brexit policy is set by the Prime Minister and by the committee, so I'm quite confident that, whatever the arrangement for special advisers, can continue."

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