Scottish Government calls for extension to Brexit transition

The economy cannot afford the 'double hit' of Covid-19's impact and a no-deal Brexit, Michael Russell warned.

The Scottish Government has urged the Prime Minister to extend the Brexit transition period by the maximum two years amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Constitution secretary Michael Russell said the economy in Scotland could not afford the “double hit” of both the impact of Covid-19 and a potential no-deal or hard Brexit.

He has called for an urgent video conference with UK counterparts from the joint ministerial committee on Brexit negotiations, which has not met since January.

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 but remains in a standstill transition arrangement until the end of the year.

Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost this week rejected calls to extend the transition as he resumed trade talks with Brussels.

“We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no,” he said.

Talks had been delayed as both Frost and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier were forced to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus.

The virus has already begun to take its toll on the Scottish economy, with firms shedding jobs at the fastest rate in 20 years, according to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Some forecasts suggest the impact of Covid-19 could cut Scotland’s GDP by 25% in the next three months if the lockdown stays in place in its current form.

Russell 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 re-think the future relationship.”

The constitution secretary added: “The UK Government is pressing ahead with negotiations without properly involving the Scottish Government, or taking account of our views.

“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.”

But speaking on Wednesday, as UK and EU negotiators agreed to hold three further rounds of trade talks, Frost said: “Transition ends on December 31 this year.

“We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no.”

The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator said prolonging the process would “create even more uncertainty, leave us liable to pay more to the EU in future, and keep us bound by evolving EU laws at a time when we need to control our own affairs”.

A spokeswoman for the UK Government 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 December 31, 2020, as enshrined in UK law, which the Prime Minister has made clear he has no intention of changing.”

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