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Opposition leaders write to Barnier in support of transition extension

3 min read
18 May 2020 | UK NEWS

Opposition parties in the UK have written to Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, to express their desire for an extension to the transition period before we leave the EU.

In their letter to Barnier, opposition leaders stated that there was “significant opposition” to the Government’s determination to stick to the current transition period deadline of 31 December among “the business community, the general public and elected representatives”. Their proposition was formed around the idea that, in light of Covid-19, negotiations could not be carried out in an appropriate manner. They suggested that negotiations should continue after the crisis was over.

They also pointed out that the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments favoured an extension to the transition period. The leader of the SNP in Westminster and the acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ian Blackford and Sir Ed Davey respectively, were the most prominent names to sign the letter. They were joined by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts, Green MP Caroline Lucas, MP from the Alliance Party Stephen Farry and fellow Northern Ireland MP Colum Eastwood of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

They argued that: “A consensus is taking shape and we hope the UK Government will soon recognise reality. It is now in all of our common interests to agree and secure an extension to the transition period. This will enable these detailed and defining negotiations to be conducted at a time when, we hope, the efforts of national governments and the European Union will not be engaged solely with dealing with the dreadful Covid-19 epidemic.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said they had written to Mr Barnier because “time is running out until we hit the hard Brexit deadline”. He continued: “It is vital that the Tory government does the only responsible thing and accepts a two-year extension to the transition period. Crashing out with a bad deal or no deal in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, would deal a double hammer blow to the economy just when we will need all the help we can get to save jobs, businesses and living standards.”

“It increasingly appears the Tory government is intent on taking Scotland and the UK down the path of a devastating no-deal. That would be beyond reckless. The coronavirus economic crash is the worst in living memory. People and businesses are already struggling to get by. The Tory government must put its responsibilities to the economy ahead of its Brexit obsession. Polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland and across the UK want to see an extension to the Brexit transition period – and there is growing consensus across political parties. It’s time for the UK Government to act.”

There has also been talk of the Labour Party joining forces with other opposition MPs to urge an extension to the transition period. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We’re saying they mustn’t rush this and if they are not going to secure a deal, they mustn’t crash out without a deal – so that means taking the time that is necessary, but it’s up to the Government to show they can deliver on the promises they’ve made to the British people. That is getting a good deal and a good deal by the end of this year, and if they’re not in a position to do that, they need to come back and explain a timetable.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “The Government was elected on a manifesto which made clear the transition period would end on December 31, 2020. That is enshrined in primary legislation and it remains our policy. We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks we will say no.

“Extending the transition period would simply increase uncertainty and prolong the negotiations, whilst also leaving us bound by EU legislation and obliged to make further payments into the EU budget.”

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