Government branded ‘most irresponsible of modern times’ over handling of Brexit talks

PUBLISHED: 16:35 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:44 24 April 2020

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

PA Wire/PA Images

The EU’s revelation that Boris Johnson’s government has failed to provide all legal text setting out its position for negotiating a post-Brexit future has been slammed by politicians.

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The EU’s chief negotiator said Michel Barnier warned the “clock was ticking” and said Britain cannot both slow down trade talks on key areas while refusing to agree to extend the transition period.

Barnier said Britain had refused to “provide firm guarantees rather than vague principles on fundamental rights and individual freedoms” creating “serious, serious” limitations for a security partnership, while the UK must recognise a role for the European Court of Justice.

And “no progress” has been made on fisheries as the UK has “not put forward a legal text”, Barnier said.

Senior figures in Brussels and opposition parties in the UK have warned the coronavirus pandemic means it will be impossible to reach an agreement in time and will lead to a chaotic exit at the end of the year.


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Johnson has repeatedly insisted this will not happen. His official spokesman has even said the UK needs to be free of EU rules to allow it “flexibility” to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

MORE: EU says Brexit talks ‘disappointing’ as UK fails to provide draft proposals

Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the handling showed “disarray at the heart of government”.

He said: “For this Conservative government still not to have published its legal Brexit negotiating document suggests total disarray at the heart of government.

“Failing to publish would be understandable and even forgivable, if ministers had accepted that coronavirus means the Brexit talks should be suspended and an extension to talks agreed, as Liberal Democrats have suggested.

“With ministers still adamant they will pursue Brexit talks despite COVID, either they are utterly incompetent or they have decided to go for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Either way, it makes them the most irresponsible government of modern times.”

The government admitted only “limited progress” was made in “bridging the gaps” with the EU in post-Brexit talks.

A spokeswoman said: “This was a full and constructive negotiating round, conducted remotely by video conference, and with a full range of discussions across all the issues, on the basis of the extensive legal texts provided by both sides in recent weeks.

“However, limited progress was made in bridging the gaps between us and the EU.”

Despite “some promising convergence in the core area” of a free trade agreement (FTA), she added: “We regret however that the detail of the EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in FTAs it has agreed with other sovereign countries.

“This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero-tariff zero quota aspiration we both share.”

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