March 29, 2020 12:01:00 AM
The SNP is urging the UK Government to “hit pause” on Brexit negotiations and seek an extension to the transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
The party’s Brexit spokeswoman, MP Philippa Whitford, said it would be irresponsible and “an act of economic and social self-harm” to continue “hurtling” towards the transition deadline.
Post-Brexit talks with the European Union will continue this week despite the UK and much of the continent being on a coronavirus-enforced lockdown.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will co-chair discussions via video conference as the two sides look at implementing what is in the Withdrawal Agreement once the transition period ends, which is due to happen on December 31.
Dr Whitford called on the UK Government to immediately seek an extension to the transition period.
She said: “The Covid-19 outbreak has gripped us all – regardless of politics or borders – and it is vital that governments here in the UK and abroad work collaboratively to combat the pandemic.
“Businesses, individuals and households across the UK are already under intense pressure and financial strain in dealing with the crisis – with many losing their incomes and a significant number of businesses facing an uncertain future.
“It is impossible for businesses and others to prepare for life outside the EU while coping with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis at the same time, and many might struggle to survive the second blow of a hard Brexit at the end of this year.
“Continuing talks and hurtling towards the transition period deadline would be irresponsible and an act of economic and social self-harm.
“It is now vital that the UK Government hits pause on all Brexit negotiations and immediately seeks an extension to the transition period to remove the uncertainty and instability.”
Downing Street has continued to insist that the Government will not ask to have the end-of-the-year deadline for a trade deal to be reached put back.
When asked about a possible extension to the transition period on Friday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “In terms of the timetable, there is no change from our point of view.”
Dr Whitford urged the UK Government to mirror the example of the Scottish Government, which has postponed planning for an independence referendum in 2020 due to the pandemic.
She said: “The SNP Scottish Government made the difficult but responsible decision to pause work on preparing for an independence referendum this year.
“The UK Government must now mirror that step so that we can focus on protecting our citizens and delivering financial support to everyone in society.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Our top priority as a Government is to slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect the NHS and keep people safe – we are working around the clock to do so, with all four nations together providing unprecedented financial support for businesses, workers and the self-employed.
“We remain fully committed to the negotiations. Last week, the UK and EU shared draft legal texts and discussions with the commission are continuing.
“The transition period ends on 31 December 2020, as enshrined in UK law, which the Prime Minister has made clear he has no intention of changing.”