MPs have written to the EU to highlight the “significant opposition to the UK Government’s extreme position” in the Brexit talks, with the deadline for seeking an extension to the transition period rapidly approaching.
The letter to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, from a coalition of MPs from around the UK said an extension is needed to allow talks to happen when “the efforts of national governments and the European Union will not be engaged solely with dealing with the dreadful Covid-19 epidemic”.
In another development, Labour’s Rachel Reeves said her party “absolutely do not want” the transition period to end with no-deal in December and urged the government not to “rush this”.
“The last thing our country and our economy needs at the moment is a further shock that could put jobs and livelihoods at risk,” Reeves told today’s Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“All all of the attention of government at the moment is on fighting the coronavirus, that is the right thing, don’t rush this, take the time that is needed.”
‘In all of our common interests to secure an extension’
The letter to Barnier – signed by MPs from the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Alliance and Green party – highlighted the “significant opposition to the UK Government’s extreme position amongst the business community, the general public and elected representatives.”
Noting that both the Welsh and Scottish governments – and a “majority of parties in the Northern Ireland Executive” – all back an extension to the transition period, the letter states: “A consensus is taking shape and we hope the UK Government will soon recognise reality.
“It is now in all of our common interests to agree and secure an extension to the transition period.”
No deal on top of coronavirus ‘would be double hammer blow’ – Blackford
The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford said MPs wrote to Barnier because “time is running out until we hit the hard Brexit deadline” and insisted it is “vital that the Tory government does the only responsible thing and accepts a two-year extension to the transition period.”
Blackford said “crashing out” of the EU with a bad-deal or no-deal would be “a double hammer blow to the economy” when “we will need all the help we can get to save jobs, businesses and living standards” given the impact of the pandemic.
The latest round of talks ended on Friday and proved “disappointing” for both sides with the David Frost, UK’s chief negotiator later warning the EU to drop its “ideological stance” in the Brexit negotiations.
EU stepping up no-deal preparations
Barnier said the UK’s demands are “not realistic” and could “not have the best of both worlds” once it leaves the organisation.
The UK’s transition period to exit the EU ends at the end of this year and the government has repeatedly ruled out asking for an extension, even after talks were impacted by coronavirus.
A poll in March showed a majority of Britons wanted the transition period to be extended because of the pandemic and the UK has until July to ask the EU for an extension.
Barnier said on Friday he was “still determined but not optimistic” about striking a deal and was stepping up preparations in the event of no-deal being reached with the UK.
He said the EU would not negotiate “in haste” or accept a deal “at any price”.
Talks cover ‘everything from freight to fighting terrorism’
Today (Sunday) Michael Gove claimed the talks are going “well” and that he remains “confident a deal could be done” – so long as the EU shows “a little bit of their fabled flexibility” in the negotiations.
Gove told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that fishing rights remains a major sticking point with the EU wanting “to have the same access to our fish as they had when we were in the EU”.
The next round of talks are due on June 1 and will be the last before the summit of EU leaders and Boris Johnson later that month.
The Financial Times report that EU officials are insistent a deal must be struck by October if it is to be ratified in time “leaving barely seven months for the future relationship talks, which cover everything from freight to fighting terrorism.”