Brexit transition must be extended for two years, insists Scottish minister

Mike Russell is calling for the UK government to request a longer period of Brexit negotiation due to Covid-19.
Brexit transition must be extended for two years, insists Scottish minister
The Scottish government’s Secretary for Constitutional Relations Mike Russell also called for a joint meeting involving ministers from the four UK nations to discuss the approach to Brexit. Picture: PA

The coronavirus crisis means the Brexit transition period should be delayed for the maximum time of two years, the Scottish government’s Constitution Secretary has said.

Mike Russell is calling for the UK government to request a longer period of negotiation due to the global pandemic.

The UK government has previously ruled out any extension, saying said it has “no intention of changing” the December 31 2020 date for ending the transition period.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Brexit transition period can be extended for up to two years if a request is made before June 30 this year.

Mr Russell has also called for a joint meeting involving ministers from the four UK nations to discuss the approach to Brexit.

He said: “Instead of its reckless decision to pursue a hard Brexit in the middle of this unprecedented crisis, the UK government should today be asking the EU for the maximum two-year extension to the transition period.

“The benefits of co-ordinated European action have never been clearer. An extended transition will keep the UK as close as possible to the EU and provide an opportunity to rethink the future relationship.

The UK government is pressing ahead with negotiations without properly involving the Scottish government or taking account of our views.

He added: “The Scottish economy cannot afford the double hit of Covid-19 and the growing likelihood of a no-deal or at best a hard Brexit deal in less than nine months’ time.

“The voices of all four UK nations must be heard and I am therefore calling for an urgent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations), which has the task of overseeing negotiations.

“Clearly if it does not meet, it cannot oversee.”

A UK government spokeswoman 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 and the second round is taking place by video conference this week.

“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.”

It came as the latest round of negotiations got under way on Monday via videolink.

The British government said it expects the talks to be “constructive” with the “aim of making progress” ahead of a high-level meeting expected in June to review the progress that has been made.

Topics will include trade, transport, law enforcement, energy, governance, fisheries, social security co-ordination and level playing field provisions.

The UK Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “This week we expect further constructive talks with the aim of making progress ahead of June, building on the talks to date which have identified the major areas where we agree and disagree.

“The next two rounds are due to take place in the weeks starting May 11 and June 1.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the two sides aimed to make “tangible” progress by June.

“Today, the second round of negotiations began by videoconference,” he tweeted.

“We must advance across all areas: it is our objective to make tangible progress by June.”

His British counterpart, David Frost, said the UK looks to “make good progress towards an agreement based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals”.

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