Extend Brexit transition period to save stalling trade talks, EU urges Boris Johnson

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier says EU wants extension

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 10 June 2020 16:31 BST
Michel Barnier appearing at the committee
Michel Barnier appearing at the committee (EbS)

The EU's chief negotiator has called for an extension to the Brexit transition period in a bid to save stalling trade talks and prevent a no-deal.

Michel Barnier told a committee in Brussels that the European Commission supported an extension beyond the end of the year to give negotiators more time, with scant progress so far.

The EU has previously said it is open to an extension but has shied away from actively calling for one. But as the deadline to extend looms at the end of this month, Mr Barnier's position has shifted.

"We are in favour of an extension, particularly given the current circumstances," Mr Barnier told a meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Boris Johnson's government has steadfastly said it will not extend the transition period, stating that it wants to get talks resolved by the end of the year.

Mr Barnier's call is likely to receive limited support in the UK. While some opposition parties like the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens have called for a further delay, Labour has shied away from backing a longer transition.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer has said he is not calling for one because he wants to see how the government does and hold them to their promise to negotiate a deal by December.

Mr Barnier told the committee that the UK was being unreasonable in aspects of the talks.

"Britain is demanding a lot more from the EU than Canada, Japan or other partners," he said. "We cannot and we will not allow this cherry picking."

He added: "During the past negotiating round UK must have taken note of the EU’s willingness to search for compromises.

"What we now need to make progress are clear and concrete signals the UK too is open to work on an agreement."

Last Friday after a further round of talks conducted by video link he said there had been no significant progress in important areas.

His UK counterpart David Frost called on both sides to "intensify and accelerate" the discussions, with Mr Barnier suggesting a return to face-to-face meetings.

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen are to hold a high-level discussion later this month to stake out a way forward, with proceedings expected to be held via video link.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Throughout the negotiations we’ve been clear that we will not extend the transition period and, if offered an extension from the EU, we won’t accept it.

“An extension would bind us into future EU legislation, without us having any say in designing it. We would still have to make large-scale payments to the EU. We would still be constrained by state aid rules meaning we need EU approval for support measures to our industry. And overall we would be bound to follow the EU’s decisions, which reasonably enough will be made in the interest of the 27 not the 28.

“Brexit is about economic independence and we gain more by being able to design our own rules to suit the best interests of our businesses and people in future.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in