Thank you to those who have contacted me about the outbreak of COVID-19 and the possibility of an extension to the Brexit transition period.
The coronavirus crisis is the biggest we have faced in several generations. Public health and safety must come first, with action guided by medical and scientific evidence. It is vital that the Government shows the leadership this outbreak demands. All its efforts must be channelled into protecting people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods.
In the middle of this crisis, the Government continues to state that its negotiations with the EU on our future relationship and preparations for the end of the transition period continue on schedule, and that the date for the end of the transition is enshrined in UK law. I am aware that reports in March suggested the Government could ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period due to the difficulties in carrying out negotiations with the EU under current circumstances, but its chief negotiator has reiterated its position and said the Government would turn down a request for an extension from the EU.
I believe it was a serious mistake for the Government to set the date of 31st December 2020 in law as the end of the transition period and to prohibit itself from requesting an extension. It was warned during debates on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill that by doing so it was boxing itself in, setting up the risk of a damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit. It is deeply disappointing that it chose to reject proposals to give Parliament a role in deciding on an extension to avoid leaving the transition period without an agreement on the future UK-EU relationship. This would have been a sensible insurance policy, giving the Government the flexibility to deal with any challenges that came up and provide the certainty that businesses and the economy need.
Our priority at this time must be to focus on stopping the spread of coronavirus and protecting individuals and businesses from its impacts. Nevertheless, our future relationship with the EU will involve decisions that are crucial to our country. Those decisions must put the interests of jobs and the economy, as well as security and the other issues covered by the talks, before ideology. Given the Government’s decision to continue negotiations with the EU during this period, it is vital that it reports to Parliament regularly on the progress of negotiations so that we can press the concerns that you and many others have raised.