Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw has said he is “a pragmatist” when it comes to extending the Brexit transition period due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Carlaw said that, should the outbreak last longer than expected, conversations should be had to extend the December 31 deadline for the end of the transition period.
The leader said there could be a point in the future where negotiations between the UK Government and the EU would be able to go ahead, but added that it was up to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to assess when or if an extension should be requested.
The UK Government can request an extension to the process up until June 30.
Carlaw said: “I’m completely a pragmatist on this.”
He said the governments of the world have been diverted from their legislative agendas to counter the spread of Covid-19.
The Tory leader warned against an “early statement” on the matter, adding: “The Prime Minister will come to a view as to how far we can get within the timescale that we’ve got.
“If that can be achieved, fine, but if it can’t then my view would be that the emergency requires a pragmatic response.”
According to Carlaw, who was elected over leadership rival Michelle Ballantyne in February, Downing Street still believes a deal can be struck with the European Union despite the shadow of coronavirus.
He added: “Those people who have never been comfortable for us to be leaving from the start have said that it’s absolutely impossible – I don’t know what will prove to be possible – but I think, at the beginning of April, it’s still premature to argue that there are no circumstances which an agreement could be reached.”
EU member states may also, Carlaw said, be more amenable to an agreement after the outbreak is under control, because “they’ll have other things they want to focus on”.
The Eastwood MSP also said there is no need to make Brexit a political issue at this time, adding: “That’s creating a fight that we don’t need to have.”
Constitution secretary Mike Russell called on the UK Government to drop the negotiations, extend the transition period and focus on tackling Covid-19.
He said: “There can be no meaningful negotiations with the EU while the coronavirus crisis continues, and therefore the UK Government must this week seek an extension to the Brexit transition period.
“Government effort should be devoted to tackling this emergency situation and it is frankly bewildering that UK ministers are pressing ahead with their plans to impose a hard Brexit on Scotland in less than nine months’ time, given the unprecedented economic impact of the current crisis.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said the Prime Minister had “no intention of changing” the end of the transition period, adding: “We remain fully committed to the negotiations and discussions with the Commission are continuing.
“Chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, will speak next week to agree a timetable for the negotiations in April and May.”