Michael Gove to chair Brexit talks despite UK and continent on lockdown

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael. Picture: Pippa Fowles /PA Wire

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael. Picture: Pippa Fowles /PA Wire - Credit: PA

Brexit talks are set to continue next week despite the UK and continent being on lockdown.

Downing Street has confirmed Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will co-chair discussions via video conference as the two sides look at implementing what is in the Withdrawal Agreement once the transition period ends, which is due to close on December 31.

Monday's UK-EU joint committee is separate to the trade talks, which the Guardian reported was considered to be 'in the deep freeze' due to Europe's battle against Covid-19.

Draft legal texts were exchanged on March 18, with the UK proposing a free trade agreement and other mini-deals on aviation safety, air transport and civil nuclear industries as its basis for negotiation, but government attention has turned to dealing with coronavirus in past weeks rather than Brexit.

Downing Street has continued to insist that the government will not request to put back the end-of-the-year deadline for a trade deal to be reached.

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The prime minister's official spokesman, when asked about a possible extension to the transition period, told reporters on Friday: 'In terms of the timetable, there is no change from our point of view.'

He said the meeting next week would 'oversee the implementation, application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement and will seek to resolve any issues that may arise from it'.

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'The meeting will happen remotely instead of in-person given the developments of coronavirus, and so we are considering alternative ways to host it, such as conference calls,' said the No 10 spokesman.

'The UK delegation will include the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt.'

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Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' acting leader, said the government was 'incredibly irresponsible' with its decision to press on with the Brexit talks, despite chief negotiators in Westminster and Brussels respectively having contracted coronavirus.

'The coronavirus crisis is an unprecedented threat, to the nation's health and the nation's economy.

'The government's priority must be focusing on tackling the threat and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

'It is incredibly irresponsible to press on with Brexit talks and not to extend the deadline for the transition period, especially with the chief negotiators on each side now diagnosed with coronavirus.

'The prime minister should be work more closely with our nearest neighbours. The UK should be present at the EU health ministers' daily briefings. That way the government might not have missed signing up to the EU ventilator scheme.'

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