Downing Street today categorically ruled out seeking an extension to the ‘standstill’ post-Brexit transition period despite growing calls to push back the deadline for a trade deal because of the chaos caused by the mutant coronavirus strain.
Negotiations between Britain and the EU remain ongoing, with the two sides still deadlocked on the crunch issues of the ‘level playing field’ and fishing rights.
The transition period is due to end on December 31 and if the UK and Brussels fail to ratify and roll out a deal before then they will be forced to trade on basic World Trade Organisation terms from January 1 which will see tariffs imposed on goods.
A WTO split is also expected to cause border disruption and critics have warned the UK cannot afford further chaos at ports after the discovery of a Covid-19 variant prompted France to suspend all traffic from Britain for 48 hours while other countries have also suspended travel ties.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it is ‘imperative’ that Number 10 seeks an extension to the trade talks while senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said the two sides should ‘pause the clock’ if no agreement is in place by December 31.
But the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman this afternoon ruled out pushing back the deadline as he told reporters: ‘I think our position on the transition period is clear. It will end on the 31st of December. That remains our position.’
Meanwhile, Downing Street moved to slap down claims made by Nigel Farage and others that France had closed the border to force the UK to sign a ‘bad’ Brexit trade deal.
The leader of the Brexit Party said Britain is ‘dealing with thugs and bullies’ and it is now ‘time to walk away’ from talks.
But the PM’s spokesman said Boris Johnson does not believe there was a Brexit element to the French decision.
He said: ‘No, we don’t think that is the reason for this. As I say, throughout the pandemic different travel restrictions have been imposed around the world.
‘You are aware of our travel quarantine policy that has been used for some time now and I pointed to the example fo Denmark where we suspended travel not too long ago.’
Downing Street today categorically ruled out seeking an extension to the post-Brexit ‘standstill’ transition period
Nigel Farage has accused the EU of trying to take advantage of the mutant coronavirus crisis to force the UK to sign a ‘bad’ post-Brexit trade deal
Scotland’s First Minister said the UK faces a ‘profoundly serious situation’ because of the virus mutation and warned it would be ‘unconscionable’ to leave the European Union at the end of the year as she called for the transition period to be extended
More than £33BILLION wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening
More than £33billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening today as panicked investors reacted to the devastating economic threat of a toughened lockdown, the new coronavirus strain and the continued Brexit deadlock.
The index of Britain’s leading companies fell 1.8 per cent or 117 points to 6,410 shortly after opening in London, while the pound also sank 1.8 per cent to $1.3278 today.
Among the companies suffering heavy falls this morning were British Airways owner International Airlines Group down 16 per cent, jet engine maker Rolls-Royce falling 9 per cent, Lloyds Banking Group down by 6 per cent and Barclays losing 5 per cent.
Travel firms in Europe were also seeing losses today, with Germany’s Dax down 1.9 per cent, France’s Cac 40 falling 2.4 per cent and Spain’s Ibex dropping 2.8 per cent.
It comes after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain.
Mr Johnson is holding an emergency Cobra committee meeting this afternoon after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant strain.
France has said the ban on all traffic from the UK will last for an initial period of 48 hours as Paris assesses the risk posed by the variant.
Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being ‘marooned’ in the UK.
Mr Farage claimed the border shutdown was an attempt to make the UK cave in during Brexit talks which remain deadlocked on the crunch issues of fishing rights and the so-called ‘level playing field’ on rules.
He tweeted: ‘We are dealing with thugs and bullies who want to make us sign a bad deal. Time to walk away, to hell with the EU.’
He later told Politico: ‘If this is the heavy hand of EU negotiation the time has come to say go to hell.’
On the other side of the political divide, Ms Sturgeon called on Mr Johnson to negotiate an extension to the transition period.
She said the UK faces a ‘profoundly serious situation’ because of the virus mutation and warned it would be ‘unconscionable’ to leave the EU at the end of the year without agreeing trade terms.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period.
‘The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention.
‘It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.’
The European Parliament had set a deadline of last night for the UK and the EU to agree a trade deal but there was no breakthrough.
MEPs said that if a deal is agreed beyond that point they will not have enough time to properly scrutinise and vote on it.
David McAllister, the European Parliament’s lead representative on Brexit, said last night that the failure to hit the deadline means there will not be a trade deal in place in time for December 31.
He warned that MEPs ‘will not be in a position to grant consent to an agreement this year’.
However, should the European Parliament stick to its guns and refuse to ratify a deal it is thought EU member states could seek to sideline MEPs.
David McAllister warned last night that MEPs ‘will not be in a position to grant consent to an agreement this year’ because the European Parliament’s deadline for a deal of midnight on Sunday had not been met
European capitals could ‘provisionally apply’ the terms of a trade deal in time for January 1 and then ask MEPs to formally ratify it in January.
While technically possible it is thought such an approach could cause significant legal issues for both sides.
The UK and the EU are committed to the talks continuing, with a senior EU diplomat telling The Telegraph: ‘December 31 is the only final deadline.’
A senior UK government source said last night: ‘Teams have been negotiating throughout the day and expect to continue tomorrow.
‘Talks remain difficult and significant differences remain. We continue to explore every route to a deal that is in line with the fundamental principles we brought into the negotiations.’
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said negotiations are at a ‘crucial moment’ and insisted Brussels ‘remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement’.
But he warned: ‘We respect the sovereignty of the UK. And we expect the same.’
Mr Barnier said both the EU and the UK ‘must have the right to set their own laws and control their own waters’ under the terms of any accord as he stressed ‘we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake’.
His comments came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock fired a broadside at Brussels as he said the EU will have to ‘make the move’ and withdraw its ‘unreasonable demands’ if a deal is to be agreed.
Fishing is now viewed as the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the two sides unable to agree how the resources in UK waters should be split.
The EU is said to have offered an eight year transition to new arrangements and to give back 22 per cent of its current fishing quota.
But the UK has offered a three year ‘glide path’ and wants the EU to hand back 50 per cent of its quota.
European fishermen are increasingly concerned that they are about to be ‘sold down the river’ by Mr Barnier.