Nicola Sturgeon’s plea to postpone Brexit negotiations during the coronavirus pandemic has been rejected by the UK Government.
The Scottish Government had written to a member of Boris Johnson’s top Brexit team to urge the UK to pause Brexit negotiations. Mike Russell, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary, wrote to cabinet secretary Michael Gove requesting a halt to the withdrawal process amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Mr Gove rejected the plea and said the UK Government had no intention of changing the end date of the transition period, currently set at December 31.
Mr Russell has refused to take no for an answer however, and said he has already resubmitted a letter to Mr Gove to restate the Scottish Government’s case.
He questioned how the UK Government can be focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic while also pursuing Brexit negotiations.
The Scottish minister said there had been “no meaningful discussion of issues with the devolved governments for almost two months”, and this was unlikely to improve given the coronavirus outbreak.
He said there will be dismay across the UK, especially in Scotland, if the Government decides to “plough on” with Brexit in less than nine months’ time.
Mr Russell said: “But, bluntly, is the UK Government now expecting the Scottish Government to divert resources from tackling COVID-19 to carry out the necessary, extensive work that would be involved?
“There is still time to change course – and the UK Government should confirm without delay that they will seek the year’s extension that is on offer from June.
“That would ensure that every effort is put to tackling the pandemic emergency.”
But the UK Government has rebuffed Scotland’s request.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Our top priority as a Government is to slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect the NHS and keep people safe – we are working around the clock to do so, with all four nations together providing unprecedented financial support for businesses, workers and the self-employed.
“We remain fully committed to the negotiations.
“The UK and EU have shared draft legal texts and discussions with the Commission are continuing.
“The transition period ends on 31 December 2020, as enshrined in UK law, which the Prime Minister has made clear he has no intention of changing.”
Downing Street added David Frost, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, is still in regular contact with the EU.
A spokesman said on Monday Mr Frost is: “Still speaking to EU’s deputy head of task force Clara Martinez Alberola later on today to organise work over the next few weeks.”
He added: “We remain absolutely committed to negotiations.”
But the Government has come under pressure to postpone the Brexit talks.
Labour’s newly elected leader Keir Stamer said it was a mistake to put the EU deadline into law.
Former Tory MP Nick de Bois said the talks needed to be postponed.
Writing in the Sunday Times he said it was “illogical” and “incomprehensible” to spend time and money on Brexit negotiations during a pandemic.
The EU has also urged Britain to submit an extension request.
The centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament said the pandemic meant that commons sense should “prevail over ideology”.