EU tells Britain Brexit talks are no longer a priority

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Officials in Brussels have told Britain they are no longer focusing on Brexit talks, stressing that their attention has turned to battling Covid-19.

EU negotiators have told their British counterparts that talks around Britain's future relationship with Europe is now a second-rate issue as all 27 member states scramble to fight off Covid-19.

Talking to POLITICO, an EU mandarin said the bloc was baffled by the UK government's refusal to consider an extension to Brexit talks.

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The official said Europe's political leaders remained 'focused on something else now,', stressing that 'If your house is on fire, that's your first and sole priority.'

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Another inside source told The Express the bloc was taking matters 'one week at a time' and that it was 'too early' to start thinking 'about the much longer term.'

These comments come after a meeting between Britain's chief negotiator, David Frost, the foreign minister Dominic Raab and other ministers at 10 Downing Street concluded with the government solidifying its position to not seek an extension.

It is understood an extension could mean Britain continues to pay into EU schemes if it does not leave before December 31 when the bloc is set to draw up its long-term budget.

Talks have been delayed for weeks after both chief negotiators recovered from the coronavirus. Social distancing rules have made face-to-face negotiations impossible while security concerns around videoconferencing software has halted any chance of virtual talks. Meanwhile, 'very serious divergences' remained between the two sides and Britain has still not submitted a comprehensive draft proposal to Brussels.

The Johnson government has made it illegal to seek an extension however a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement could overturn this, leaving Westminster until July 1 to decide.

The EU is willing to extend talks and is able to request an extension itself.

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