Talks on an EU-UK trade deal face a new delay after a senior member of EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday (19 November).
“One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19. With David Frost we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines,” the EU’s chief negotiator tweeted.
Barnier will now self-quarantine for ten days in line with Belgian law following the team member’s test result.
British officials are expected to leave Brussels on Friday following this week’s talks and, while talks will continue to take place remotely, the absence of face-to-face talks between Barnier and the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, on the key outstanding political difference is likely to further delay any agreement.
Although both sides have indicated that progress has been made in recent days, long-standing differences on the access of European fishing fleets to UK waters, common regulatory standards, known as the ‘level playing field’ and dispute settlement remain, and compromises are unlikely to be found until the eleventh hour.
“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams,” the British government said in a statement.
Both sides had ear-marked next week for an agreement in order for it to have a chance of being ratified by European legislatures and the UK parliament before the end of the year when the post-Brexit transition period ends. Failure to do so would see EU-UK trade conducted on World Trade Organisation terms.
The increasingly tight window for ratification prompted French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo to urge the European Commission to step up its planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario at an EU leaders’ summit held by videoconference on Thursday.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski]