Brexit Update: Coronavirus causes negotiations' delay but no extension


Coronavirus is the main topic on everybody’s mind at the moment, citizens and country leaders alike. Some countries are in partial or even in full lockdown, while other countries have installed “social distancing” measures. This has an impact on the Brexit negotiations as well.

While working from home with video conferencing is working for office meetings, it is making Brexit negotiations difficult. Both sides say they are working on alternative options, but that takes time.

Face-to-Face Negotiation Meetings Cancelled

This week both the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) were to release the legal texts of their negotiating positions. These texts are important, as they will be the first indication of how far apart the EU and the UK are. It also gives a forecast about how tough the negotiations will be.

Two themes are high on the list of tough subjects: fishing and crime and justice. The EU and the UK are very far apart on these themes. The back channels are open and ongoing talks on these subjects are very important if parties are to come anywhere near an agreement before the end of this year.

According to this article by The Guardian, one of the main problems is that the UK has a focus on sovereignty and not on economics. This is causing issues and delay on points that otherwise could be relatively easy to agree on.

Coronavirus Hits EU Negotiating Team

The Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has announced on Twitter that he has been infected by the Coronavirus. This means that he and members of his negotiating team are being quarantined. 

I would like to inform you that I have tested positive for #COVID19. I am doing well and in good spirits. I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team.

For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.

— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) March 19, 2020

Boris Johnson Still Against Extension

The time available for the Brexit negotiations was already very limited. Coronavirus has now put more strain on the timeline. One of the biggest independent media outlets in the UK reporting on the Brexit proceedings, the Guardian, has published their view on an extension in an editorial piece titled: The Guardian view on Covid-19 and Brexit: extend the transition

Unless an extension to the Brexit transition period is sought by June, a newly obstructive border will appear between UK ports and the EU single market next January. Customs checks will separate Northern Ireland from mainland Britain. The effect will be delays, costs and a decline in trade volumes.

This is not a worst-case scenario in the event that Mr Johnson fails to sign a free-trade agreement in Brussels, but is factored into his model for any deal. The pinnacle of his ambition is a Canada-style model, which is far removed from the seamless arrangements currently in place. Even if most tariffs and quotas are eliminated, there would be checks and friction at the border.

The Guardian is not alone in their call for an extension:

Britain and the EU are facing calls to back away from a “game of chicken” and extend the Brexit transition period immediately, as both respond to the coronavirus pandemic.


However, with parts of Europe in lockdown and the UK government expecting the peak of the crisis in Britain in late spring and early summer, some experts are calling for immediate agreement to delay.

There are concerns that the peak of the disease in the UK could coincide with critical negotiation deadlines. June is the final month for Britain to ask for an extension beyond this year.

Full story here.

Nevertheless, Boris Johnson still refuses to ask for an Extension.

As Metro reports:

Addressing the issue during his press conference, Mr Johnson was asked about a delay. He pointed out that the current law prevented ministers from asking for an extension. 

He said: ‘It’s not a subject that’s being regularly discussed, I can tell you, in Downing Street at the moment,” he told reporters. ‘There is legislation in place that I have no intention of changing.’

Read the full story here.

The Effects of Brexit on Coronavirus in the UK

The UK will have to wait in line to be able to acquire a coronavirus vaccine produced in the EU, and it will have to pay more. The Guardian reports:

In an article published today on the Guardian website, the academics and lawyers say Boris Johnson’s determination to “go it alone”, free of EU regulation, after Brexit means the UK will probably have to join other non-EU countries in a queue to acquire the vaccine after EU member states have had it, and on less-favourable terms.

Read the full story here.

Be in the Know

Follow our Brexit updates. If you have any questions about importing from the UK or exporting to the UK, please contact one of our experts. We are prepared to take the load off your mind.