Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Brexit trade negotiations suspended because of COVID-19 case

Published:Thursday | November 19, 2020 | 5:12 PM
In this file photo dated Thursday, November 12, 2020, European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier (centre) leaves the Conference Centre in London with unidentified members of his team. The Brexit trade negotiations have been suspended Thursday, November 19, 2020, at a crucial stage because an EU negotiator has tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, FILE)

BRUSSELS (AP) — As if the Brexit trade negotiations were not tortuous enough, the coronavirus added a twist at a crucial stage on Thursday when top-level talks had to be suspended because an EU negotiator tested positive for COVID-19.

It added uncertainty to the negotiations as a deadline looms ever closer and both sides are still divided on three key issues.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that together with his UK counterpart, David Frost, “we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period.”

Talks among lower-ranking officials will continue in the meantime.

And once the top negotiators can resume meeting face-to-face, the talks should be back in London.

Any long suspension of talks will make it tougher for the negotiators to clinch a deal ahead of January 1, when the existing trade agreements between the EU and Britain expire.

“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams,” the British government said in a statement.

With face-to-face talks off the table, “the UK and EU teams have agreed to continue to negotiate remotely for the time being. The talks will resume in person when it is judged safe to do so,” Downing Street said.

The virus, which has been brutal for people across the EU and UK, did not spare the negotiations over the past nine months.

Barnier tested positive in March and Frost self-isolated that same month after developing coronavirus symptoms.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalised in April and is currently back in coronavirus quarantine until next Thursday.

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