UK trade talks with EU risk being shelved over coronavirus fears

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove arrives at the Cabinet Office in London, ahead of a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra to discuss coronavirus.

UK government trade talks scheduled with the EU are in doubt because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a government minister.

Michael Gove told a committee of MPs on Wednesday it was a “live question” whether negotiations would go ahead as normal, with concerns about the health risks of intensive face-to-face meetings.

The comments are likely to cast fresh uncertainty over the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU, its biggest trading partner. The deadline for progress in talks is already tight, with Britain threatening to walk away if not enough progress has been made in June.

June is also the EU’s deadline for offering any extension to Britain’s Brexit transition period, which will end in December. The UK is currently still aligned to EU rules, but risks a significant rupture to relations and facing significant new barriers to trade if no deal is reached.

Gove said: “We have had indications today from Belgium that there may be specific public health concerns."

He also said the UK would produce its own proposed draft free trade agreement and several legal texts ahead of the next round of scheduled negotiations on 18 March. But he said it had not yet been decided if the document would be published, Reuters reports.

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