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Call for Brexit transition period to be extended amid COVID crisis and border shutdown

Written by on 21 December 2020

Brexit trade deal talks are set to continue beyond their original deadline, as Scotland’s first minister called for an extension to the transition period.

Negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost met in Brussels on Sunday – the day the European Parliament said a deal needed to be done to ensure it could be signed off before the transition period ends on 31 December.

But they failed to reach an agreement, with a government source describing the situation as “difficult” and key differences remaining on fishing and state aid for business.

With the UK in crisis over a new strain of coronavirus and many EU countries shutting their borders, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, urged the prime minister seek an extension to the Brexit transition period.

She said Britain faced a “profoundly serious situation” with the new mutation of COVID-19, which “demands our 100% attention”.

“It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit,” she tweeted on Sunday night.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold an emergency meeting of the government’s Cobra committee on Monday to try to prevent UK food shortages after France banned all freight from the UK.

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A string of EU countries, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Ireland, have all restricted travel to the UK over concerns about the new strain – thought to be up to 70% more transmissible.

The Port of Dover has been closed to all traffic – both freight and passengers – amid the French travel ban.

EU chief negotiator Mr Barnier has said Brexit trade talks are at a “crucial moment”.

The UK side has accused the EU of making “unreasonable demands” on fishing rights and competition rules.

Sources have warned there will be no deal unless there is a “substantial shift” in position from the EU.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We want these talks to reach a positive conclusion. I think everybody wants a deal.

“Unfortunately, the EU have put in some unreasonable demands. I’m sure that a deal can be done but obviously it needs movement on the EU side.”

Passengers queued to board the last Eurostar from London before France imposed a UK travel ban

Originally, the EU claimed there would need to be an agreement by 20 December if EU leaders were to have time to ratify it by the end-of-year deadline.

If a deal does come later, EU rules would allow leaders to sign it off provisionally, but delay ratification until 2021.

But if there is no agreement by New Year’s Eve, the UK will leave the single market and customs union and have to trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms – which risks the imposition of tariffs and the price of goods going up.