Calls for government to extend Brexit transition period to focus on coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a laboratory at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, north London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a laboratory at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, north London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/PA Wire.

The government should pause Brexit trade talks and extend the transition period to allow it to deal with the coronavirus, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

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Acting party leader Ed Davey said that the government should be putting all of its focus on dealing with the outbreak, after failing to show "any leadership" on the matter.

Last week Boris Johnson claimed it was his "top priority" for government, but still postponed a Cobra committee meeting until the start of this week.

Davey claims that the "gathering storm" of the Coronavirus, during a flooding crisis, whilst the government is attempting the most complicated negotiations for generations is a "recipe for disaster".

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It follows claims that the government could walkaway from talks with the European Union as early as June if it feels sufficient progress has not been made.

"Boris Johnson has been conspicuous by his absence during the flooding crisis, and has failed to show the leadership required over a threat as serious as Coronavirus," said Davey.

He continued: "Only yesterday the health secretary admitted that stockpiles for mitigating the damage of a 'no deal Brexit' were being re-directed for the Coronavirus threat, even though last week ministers confirmed a 'no deal Brexit' could now come as early as this June.

"If a no deal Brexit were to occur in the middle of a Coronavirus epidemic it would be a recipe for disaster. Lives could be put at risk, as the NHS and medical supplies could snap under the pressure.

"Rather than obsessing with his own self-imposed Brexit deadlines, the prime minister must wake up, and recognise that it's better to be safe than sorry.

"During this gathering storm the national interest surely suggests that the PM should seek an extension of the Brexit transition period and pause the trade talks. Then the NHS and local communities can get the funds and the focus they deserve, and the UK can talk to our European neighbours about how we can co-operate against the Coronavirus which does not recognise national borders."

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