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Boris Johnson rejects ‘temporary standstill’ period for Brexit

British prime minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on 8 September 2020. - Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Boris Johnson will not give in to demands to extend the Brexit transition period despite the coronavirus crisis, Number 10 has said.

Downing Street rejected the call and dismissed the idea of a temporary “standstill” period maintaining current arrangements beyond the end of the year.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said “time is obviously in very short supply” to get a deal done and ratified by January 1 with the UK prepared for World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms if there is no agreement with the EU.

He added: “We will need to ratify any agreement ahead of January 1. The Leader of the House made clear that we would recall Parliament in order to give MPs a vote on the necessary legislation.”

Asked if there could be a “standstill” agreement to maintain current arrangements until a deal is in place, the spokesman said: “We have been clear on this point that we will either leave the transition period on December 31 with a free-trade agreement or we will leave with Australia-style WTO terms. That remains the case.”

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and London mayor Sadiq Khan have led calls for the deadline to be extended while the government battles the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

Sturgeon said the prime minister should try to get an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the discovery of the faster-spreading coronavirus strain.

She tweeted: “It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period.

“The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention.

“It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.”

Her view was echoed by Khan.

He said: “Securing our key supply chains and fighting the coronavirus pandemic requires the full and undivided efforts of ministers more than ever before.

“Risking the chaos and uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit was reckless even before the latest surge in Covid cases and the worrying news about this latest strain.

“With the virus spreading rapidly and our hospitals increasingly stretched, the only thing the country should be concentrating on is fighting the virus.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir did not back the calls for an extension, instead calling on the prime minister to deliver a deal.

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