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The European political group that unites the parties of Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar has urged the government to do “the responsible thing” and extend the Brexit transition period, as coronavirus plays havoc with the timetable for an EU-UK deal.

The centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the European parliament, issued a statement on Monday calling on the government to extend the Brexit transition beyond the end of the year.

Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourgish MEP who sits on the European parliament’s international trade committee, said:

Under these extraordinary circumstances, I cannot see how the UK Government would choose to expose itself to the double whammy of the coronavirus and the exit from the EU single market, which will inevitably add to the disruption, deal or no deal. I can only hope that common sense and substance will prevail over ideology. An extension of the transition period is the only responsible thing to do

David McAllister, the German MEP who leads the European parliament’s work on the future relationship with the UK, said the pandemic complicated an “already very ambitious schedule. “The ball is now clearly in the British court.”

Under the withdrawal agreement, the Brexit transition period is due to expire on 31 December 2020, ending British membership of the EU single market and customs union. But it can be extended for one or two years, if both sides agree by 1 July.

The EU has made little secret it would agree to any request for extension, but the British government has continued to rule it out.

lisa o’carroll

BREXIT NEWS: The first meeting of the EU-UK joint committee today, by teleconference.
Michael Gove and EC Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.
Draft agenda: EU citizens rights, NI protocol, Cyprus, Gibraltar, divorce bill

March 30, 2020

The plea for extra time comes as British and EU politicians prepare to hold their first meeting to discuss putting in place the post-Brexit Irish Sea border. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove will hold a conference call with European commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič to discuss implementing the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which includes the Irish border and citizens’ rights.

The two sides will not discuss the future relationship. One negotiating round has already been cancelled because of coronavirus and doubts are high as to whether next week’s talks will go ahead. The large number of people involved in EU-UK post-Brexit talks makes video-conferencing a complicated option, although more manageable for Monday’s smaller group involved in implementing the withdrawal agreement.

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