Brexit: UK-EU trade talks stall as Michel Barnier starts isolation

Brexit talks are in chaos again as Michel Barnier goes into isolation as one of his negotiating team tests positive for Covid-19

  • EU’s chief negotiator will isolate for at least a week in line with Belgian rules
  • Despite the setback, Downing Street insisted that talks would restart remotely
  • EU ambassadors will be briefed on Friday via videolink on progress of the talks

Brexit talks were thrown into chaos yesterday after it emerged a member of Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus.

The EU’s chief negotiator will now be among those self-isolating for at least a week in line with Belgian health rules.

Despite the setback, Downing Street insisted that talks would restart today remotely.

Mr Barnier wrote on Twitter: ‘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.’

Brexit trade talks have been suspended after a member of the EU team tested positive for coronavirus. Pictured Michel Barnier 

A member of his team will brief EU ambassadors this morning via videolink on the progress of the talks.

Mr Barnier contracted the virus himself in March.

‘We will continue to act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams,’ a UK government spokesman said, adding that both sides were assessing the implications for the discussions.

‘A lot can be done virtually, although this doesn’t help,’ said one source close to the talks. ‘The real delay comes from content, not bodies in the room.’

UK government sources say some of Britain’s negotiating team were concerned about returning to Brussels due to its high Covid death rates. Hopes had been raised that an agreement could have been announced early next week.

European Council president Charles Michel had told colleagues that Monday was the deadline for a deal as it would give the European Parliament enough time to ratify it before its final meeting of the year on December 16.

Some Eurocrats have suggested an emergency session being held on December 28 to avoid the dangers of an accidental No Deal. Another option would be to apply any deal on a provisional basis until a vote could be organised.

Britain and Brussels have been at loggerheads for months over key sticking points including fishing rights, unfair competition and how to police a future deal.

One official said both sides had been ‘going round and round in circles’ on those three issues. EU leaders were set to ask late last night for the European Commission to unveil its updated No Deal plans during a conference call of the 27 heads of state.

Speaking before the news emerged that Mr Barnier would have to self-isolate, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said: ‘It is time to clarify what this Brexit will look like. We are in stoppage time in negotiations. A final agreement will have to be reached in the coming days.’

Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, warned: ‘We are at a critical stage of the negotiations.

‘The time pressure is huge, and we all realise that time is running out.’


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