A top Tory MP has joined Nicola Sturgeon in calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period – so that ministers can fully focus on tackling the coronavirus crisis.
Simon Hoare – chair of the Commons’ Northern Ireland select committee – added his voice to growing calls to ‘stop the clock’ on post-Brexit trade talks with Brussels, claiming that it was “time for maturity”.
His intervention comes after Sturgeon, the First Minister, said it was “imperative” that Boris Johnson seeks an extension. “The new Covid strain – and the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, and it demands our 100 per cent attention” she tweeted on Sunday night.
She added: “It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.”
“With worsening Covid situation & time of the year I’d really like to see the clock temporarily “stopped” on Brexit talks,” Hoare said on Monday.
“There’s no [parliamentary] time to scrutinise & agree a deal & daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of No Deal is alarming. Time for maturity,” he added.
Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal look set to continue through to Christmas after another weekend of tense negotiations failed to achieve a breakthrough.
After lead negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost met in Brussels on Sunday, a UK Government source said the discussions had been “difficult”.
The source said “significant differences” remained over the key issues of fisheries and the so-called “level playing field rules” on state aid for business.
“Teams have been negotiating throughout the day and expect to continue tomorrow. Talks remain difficult and significant differences remain,” the source said.
“We continue to explore every route to a deal that is in line with the fundamental principles we brought into the negotiations.”
The European Parliament had said the talks needed to be concluded by Sunday evening if it was to ratify any deal before the current Brexit transition ends on December 31.
However, if there were to be a deal, under EU rules it could be provisionally signed off by leaders of the 27-member bloc with ratification delayed until 2021.
Earlier Mr Barnier warned that Britain must be prepared to respect the EU’s sovereignty if the talks were to succeed.
He said the EU remained committed to achieving “a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement” but said both sides needed to be able to act when their interests were at stake.