Boris Johnson Dismisses Calls to Delay Brexit as Virus Roils Politics

2020-03-19 02:02:45

(Bloomberg) —

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed calls to postpone Britain’s final break with the European Union at the end of this year, even as the coronavirus puts politics as normal on hold.

“There’s legislation in place that I have no intention of changing,” Johnson said at a press conference on Wednesday, referring to a law he enacted prohibiting any delay. “It’s not a subject that’s being regularly discussed in Downing Street.”

The coronavirus crisis has forced trade talks with the EU to be delayed and is monopolizing government time and resources — putting Johnson under growing pressure to seek an extension to the transition period that Britain entered after leaving the bloc on Jan. 31. If the two sides can’t reach a trade deal by the end of this year, the U.K. would effectively crash out of the bloc.

For the prime minister — who last year promised never to delay Brexit only to do just that — any further delay would be a major political setback. Britain remains bound by the EU’s rules even if it has no say over them during the transition period, and, if it seeks an extension, the country faces having to pay the EU money.

The government has said it is determined to continue talks with the EU, and the two sides are discussing ways to replace planned face-to-face meetings with video conferences. One option could be to move from set-piece, intensive rounds of negotiations lasting several days at a time, to a pattern of continuing, rolling dicussions, one official said.

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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