Brussels: Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator for the bloc’s future relationship with Britain after Brexit, says he has been infected with the coronavirus.
The 69-year-old Barnier said in a Twitter message on Thursday that he is doing well with a good morale.
“I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” Barnier said. “For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.”
Even before Barnier’s announcement, the second round of post-Brexit trade negotiations that was due to take place in London this week had already been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Negotiating teams from both sides said they were looking at alternative ways of continuing the negotiations, including by video conferencing. London is the epicentre of Britain’s virus outbreak.
Although Britain left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, it remains part of the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants a comprehensive trade deal completed this year. The Conservative leader says he won’t seek an extension to the country’s current transition period, insisting that 11 months is more than enough time to secure a wide-ranging deal with the EU for goods and services.
Under the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU, the country can request a one-time extension to the transition for up two years.
The coronavirus outbreak, though, has raised questions as to whether a Brexit trade deal can now be completed in time, given the increasingly onerous restrictions on travel and work being put in place as a result of the outbreak.
Opposition lawmakers from the Labour Party have said the Johnson should ask for an extension given how an already tight timetable has been made even tighter by the virus.
The talks began earlier this month in Brussels, and are due to alternate between the EU’s headquarters and London.