THERE is “absolutely no need” to delay the Brexit transition period beyond the end of the year in response to the unfolding coronavirus, Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted, as the Leader of the House of Commons slapped down Labour demands to do precisely that.
Mr Rees-Mogg was speaking hours before it was confirmed trade talks with the European Union have been cancelled as the deadly coronavirus crisis sweeps Europe. Mr Rees-Mogg rebutted claims in the Commons by Labour’s Justin Madders that, due to the outbreak, there would not be “sufficient capacity in the system to finalise our new trading arrangements with the EU” by the end of the year. Mr Rees-Mogg, who also stressed Parliament will remain open and must “go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country” when it comes to responding to the outbreak, replied: “There is absolutely no need to extend the transition period.”
Earlier today, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has warned MPs it was a “live question” whether the next round of talks will be able to go ahead amid a growing list of travel bans and restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
Vital talks are due to take place in London from March 18, following last week’s inconclusive discussions in Brussels.
Mr Gove said: “We were looking forward to a joint committee meeting in the UK on 30th of this month and also looking forward to the next next stage of negotiations going ahead.
“But we have had indications today from Belgium that there may be specific public health concerns so I will keep house and committee updated on progress.”
Downing Street said the talks were currently set to take place as planned but the Government and Brussels would take a joint decision in the coming days.
However, a joint statement published within the last hour said: “Given the latest COVID-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.
“Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences.”