Lib Dems call for Brexit extension so UK government can focus on dealing with coronavirus crisis

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019 (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.K government should extend the Brexit transition period to allow it to deal with the coronavirus crisis, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat MP and the party’s transport spokeswoman, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson should paused the Brexit trade talks and focussed its energy and resources in tackling the coronavirus pandemic rampaging the country.

Ms Olney said Johnson’s earlier plan of having a Brexit deal and exiting the European Union by December 2020 is no longer feasible given the damaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK.

She said: “Both Boris and Barnier have now gone down with coronavirus (and) they are going to be sick for quite a while.

“Boris at least got to be focussed on resolving the coronavirus crisis in his country. So by the time we have all come out of the other side of this, whatever that looks like, it is going to be September at the earliest.

“I think before we can remotely think about life returning to normal that gives him 90 days not even that to resolve an incredibly complicated sets of arrangements and relationships.

“I mean he just needs now to sort of be serious and say it is not going to happen in order to get the best possible outcome for Britain we need to extend the transition.”

Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business, Energy & Transport (Photo: David Woolfall)

In order to get the best possible outcome for Britain we need to extend the transition

—Sarah Olney

Under the withdrawal agreement, the U.K’s membership of the European Union single market and customs union ends on 31 December 2020.

The transition can be extended by a year or two if both parties agreed.

The EU has already signalled its intention to ask for extension amid the coronavirus crisis.

However the UK government has ruled out extending the transition period beyond December 2020. The prime minister’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has said no request would be made for an extension to the transition period.

In a tweet on Friday Mr Frost wrote:

“As we prepare for the next Rounds of negotiations, I want to reiterate the Government’s position on the transition period created following our withdrawal from the EU.

“Transition ends on 31 December this year. We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no.

“Extending would simply prolong negotiations, create even more uncertainty, leave us liable to pay more the EU in future, and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs.”

British Chief Negotiator David Frost (L) is welcomed by the European Union Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier (R) prior to the first bilateral meeting to begin formal negotiations of the future relationship between the EU and UK on March 2, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

“Transition ends on 31 December this year. We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no.

—David Frost

The UK government has already started the next round of trade negotiations with the EU focusing on trade in goods, regulatory alignment and fisheries.

British officials and their European counterparts on Tuesday had their first round of remote trade deal negotiations via video conference calls.

However politicians from the opposition benches have criticised the government for sticking to its plans and refusing to extend the Brexit transition.

London mayor, Sadiq Khan, a staunch critic of the Conservative government, has accused Boris Johnson of putting “dogma ahead of national interest”.

Mr Khan told LBC: “ I think no one anticipated when they voted for Brexit that the key negotiations would fall at a time when all governments are rightly focussed on fighting a global pandemic.

“The last thing we need as we try to make our way back from the devastation that’s been wrecked by coronavirus is more chaos and uncertainty.

“I’d urge the Government to put political ideology aside and pursue the pragmatic route.

"That means to get an extension so we and our European partners can focus on recovering from COVID-19, rather than also having to deal with a no-deal Brexit.”

“The last thing we need as we try to make our way back from the devastation that’s been wrecked by coronavirus is more chaos and uncertainty.

—Sadiq Khan

Sarah Olney said her party will keep holding the government to account and hope Boris Johnson will do the right thing by seeking an extension.

The Richmond Park MP, who defeated the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith with her pro-remain message, one of the major successes for the Liberal Democrats at the 2019 general election, said the party will keep pushing for answers.

She said the prime minister “is really being stubborn and sticking to the fact that we are going to leave in December.”

Ms Olney denied Brexiteers claim that the call for extension of the Brexit transition is a last-ditch attempt by the remain camp to thwart Brexit.

“We have recognised that the (Brexit) ship has sailed. There is no reversing the decision,” said Ms Olney.

“So, we need to focus our attention now on what kind of future relationship we are building with the European Union. What kind of future society is the United Kingdom going to be if it is not part of the European Union.

“How does not being part of the European Union impact all these different parts of our lives? And that’s where our focus is going to be.”

Paramedics unload a suspected coronavirus patient from an ambulance (Photo: Sky News)

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