Boris Johnson warned a Brexit delay is ‘inevitable’ due to the coronavirus outbreak

PUBLISHED: 12:27 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:22 21 April 2020

Prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of 'cherry picking' EU benfits in his Brexit trade proposals. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of 'cherry picking' EU benfits in his Brexit trade proposals. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May’s former deputy has issued a warning to Boris Johnson’s government that a Brexit delay is now ‘inevitable’ due to coronavirus.

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David Liddington, former Tory MP and de facto deputy prime minister to Theresa May, said plans to push ahead with a hard Brexit this year are likely to trigger a backlash from the public, and that working together with European neighbours is the best way forward in securing an economic recovery.

Liddington’s warning to Johnson came as talks resume remotely between chief Brexit negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier in London and Brussels.

“Covid-19 makes extension inevitable,” he told the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

“There is not enough bandwidth to pay attention to Brexit in Whitehall or the European Commission and the major capitals.”


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He continued: “We suddenly live in a different world. I recently stood in line for the supermarket and a fellow villager said to me: ‘If only we could just talk about the Brexit sideburns again’.

“Because it is so fresh, it is impossible to make predictions.

“I hope both sides understand that now is the time to resist protectionism. We know that after the stock market crash of 1929, the trade barriers of that time worsened the depression.”

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Naomi Smith, from the pro-EU Best for Britain group, said it was important to listen to Liddington’s remarks.

She said: “David Lidington was intimately involved with Brexit talks, so when he sends a warning like this we should all listen.

“He will be fully aware of how badly talks will have been disrupted by coronavirus.

“Neither us nor the EU have the capacity to conduct such complicated negotiations at the moment without taking focus away from fighting the virus.

“That means, without an extension, both sides will end up with a bad deal come the end of this year.”

A poll this week found that two-thirds of voters - including almost half of Leave voters - want a “long” extension to allow the government to deal with the coronavirus.

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