The SNP’s Ian Blackford has said Brexit during the coronavirus pandemic is “self-induced madness” as he demanded an extension to the transition period.
Blackford, the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, claimed the risk of a second wave of infections hitting the economy means refusing to seek an extension would be the “ultimate act of self-harm”.
Blackford, however, used an opposition day debate about the impact of COVID-19 on Brexit negotiations to insist it would still be possible to legislate for an extension, despite the UK having passed the 30 June deadline to do so.
He told the Commons on Wednesday: “The EU has expressed its ongoing openness to extending the transition period for negotiations. The UK government now needs to accept that offer.”
The UK, after leaving the EU on 31 January, is in the transition period in which the two sides have until 31 December to agree their future relationship.
During the transition period, the UK effectively remains a member of the EU. It could have been extended for up to two years.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, there had been calls for Number 10 to extend the transition period, with leaders primarily focused on the pandemic.
Blackford said: “With the continued risk of a second wave hitting the economy and our communities in winter, the idea of the UK leaving the EU at the same time is economic madness.
“The outlook is bleak, there is no other way to look at it. But things are about to get much worse unless this government ends its refusal to extend the Brexit transition period.
“Refusing to do so is the ultimate act of self-harm. With businesses fighting for survival, a bad deal or a no deal will burden businesses with additional costs and additional red tape.”
Referring to a Financial Times report that said British companies trading with Europe face a £7bn red tape bill, Blackford went on: “This is not taking back control, this is self-induced madness.
“We can stop this now, we can recognise this is a price we cannot pay in the middle of a health and economic crisis.”
Responding to Blackford for the government, paymaster general Penny Mordaunt rejected his demands with a series of questions.
“I wonder what he thinks the odds are of the government extending the transition period?
“How likely does he think that we would do that, given, after all, its end date is enshrined in law? Given the government was elected on a mandate not to extend the transition period?
“Given that the deadline set for asking for an extension to the transition period has passed? Given that doing so would simply prolong the negotiations and bring uncertainty for our businesses?
“Given that it would hinder our economic recovery? Given that an extension would see us paying more to the EU? Not a good idea.
“Given we would have to back EU laws and decisions we have no say in designing? An even worse idea. And given that the legislative and economic flexibility that we need to respond to coronavirus would not be possible?”
She concluded: “What are the chances of the government doing that? What are the chances of this opposition day debate succeeding or having any influence?
“I would suggest none. The government has been very clear, multiple times. We will not extend the transition period.”