Covid-19 case halts Brexit talks for a ’short period’
Brussels, Belgium - High-stakes meetings between the chief negotiators in Brexit talks were suspended on Thursday after a member of the EU team tested positive for coronavirus, the bloc's Michel Barnier said.
"One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19," Barnier said in a tweet, as lower level meetings continued in Brussels.
In coordination with UK counterpart David Frost, Barnier said, "we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines."
Frost in a tweet said he was in "close contact" with Barnier on the situation and that "the health of our teams comes first."
I am in close contact with @michelbarnier about the situation. The health of our teams comes first. I would like to thank the @EU_Commission for their immediate help and support. https://t.co/bXPtY1EgHd— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) November 19, 2020
"I would like to thank the EU Commission for their immediate help and support," he added.
A UK government spokesman said: "We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare our teams."
The ill-timed hiccup came as London and Brussels are inching towards a trade agreement ahead of a year-end deadline, though both sides warn that failure remains possible.
A post-Brexit transition phase ends December 31 and the UK and Europe will need a trade deal to govern ties -- or face economic chaos after Britain leaves the EU single market.
With a late October deadline already blown, a deal is needed soon to allow time for legal vetting and ratification by the European Parliament, whose last scheduled meeting of the year is on December 16.
The Covid case comes at the most sensitive juncture, when the most senior negotiators will need to forge compromises on the toughest issues that have been blocked since talks began eight months ago.
"The circle dealing with the negotiations in Brussels is getting smaller, and tighter. The two sides now really are now in what can be described as a 'tunnel'" said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.