After a member of the European Union’s negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus, Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of the EU was forced to go into self-isolation while the two parties had to also suspend the face-to-face Brexit negotiations in Brussels.
The talks in the Belgian capital were suspended by Barnier after the development in consultation with his British counterpart, David Frost. This development is expected to add on to the already existing pressures on the already tight timeline on both the parties to come to an agreement on trade and security prior to the end of the transition period on December 31.
It was expected by both the sides to strike a deal by next week so that both sides have enough time to ratify any potential deal with 28 December emergency meeting of the EU identified to ratify the deal.
Video conference negotiations would continue, the two sides said in an attempt to keep to that tight deadline. However negotiators from the United Kingdom are expected to leave Brussels on Friday itself.
In March, both Barnier and Frost had contracted the virus and the negotiations had ot be called off back then too.
Since they were not in close contact with the EU official who has been infected, therefore none of the 50 UK officials in Brussels will need to quarantine, said sources.
This development has impacted Barnier’s team more. This is because Belgian law relating to the pandemic mandates that an individual testing positive for Covid-19 will have to be quarantined for seven days while individuals who come into contact with an infected person have to go into isolation for at least 10 days.
“One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19. With David Frost we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines,” the EU’s chief negotiator tweeted.
A short statement was also issued by Frost soon after Barnier’s announcement of suspension of the negotiations. “I am in close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation. The health of our teams comes first. I would like to thank the European commission for their immediate help and support.”
The Brexit negotiations are at a very critical state – so much so that the French president, Emmanuel Macron was prompted to ask the European commission to prepare for a no-deal Brexit and a call to business to get ready for the worst.
The two negotiating teams from the UK and EU have been in talks since Monday in Brussels.
After December 31, the UK will officially leave the single market and the customs union of the EU after the end of the UK’s transition period.
“With respect to the relevant public health guidance, 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. The health and welfare of our staff are our priority. The negotiations have been conducted throughout in a way that is consistent with applicable social distancing laws and guidance,” a UK government spokesman said.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)