UK chief negotiator calls for EU to show "realism" while concerns remain over Internal Market Bill and rising Covid cases

Published by Scott Challinor on September 8th 2020, 1:01pm

The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost has said that the EU must show a “degree of flexibility and realism” as the next round of negotiations begins this week.

Lord Frost said there was "still time" for the two sides to agree a post-Brexit trade deal for next year, with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and prime minister Boris Johnson having both stressed that a deal must be in place by October.

Frost added that the EU had to recognise the UK's negotiating position as a "sovereign state".

It comes after the government announced plans for the new UK Internal Market Bill, which would introduce new legislation on customs rules in Northern Ireland, in the event of a no-deal scenario.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has defended the government’s plans for the bill which could override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, saying that the legislation is a “necessary precaution” to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has also said that the UK is willing to walk away from the negotiating table if a deal has not been reached by October 15, saying that at this stage both sides would have to “accept” a no-deal scenario and “move on”.

The PM told EU leaders on Tuesday that parts of the Withdrawal Agreement are “contradictory” and must be rewritten to protect the integrity of the UK.

The EU has also said that it “will be ready” for a no-deal scenario but will do “everything in its power to reach an agreement” before negotiations end.

The bloc has raised concerns that the UK may not abide by the Withdrawal Agreement, which was struck ahead of January when the UK departed, but the government has moved to reassure that its legislation will result in “minor clarifications” and it remains committed to the agreement.

Concerns have also been raised over the plans elsewhere within the government, as Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said that the new legislation will “break international law” and go against the Withdrawal Agreement in a “specific and limited way”.

The legislation is due to be published on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam has urged caution over Covid-19, warning that the country “must start taking this very seriously again” following a recent rise in cases.

Warning of a potential “bumpy ride” over the colder months, Prof Van Tam said that the UK risked following the trajectory of several EU countries that had seen a rise in cases as restrictions were loosened and testing capacity increased, in that younger people who may be less vulnerable to the virus then pass the disease onto older generations.

He said: "People have relaxed too much, now is the time for us to re-engage, and to realise that this a continuing threat to us."

Spain recorded 26,000 new infections over the weekend, seeing it become the first country in western Europe to report 500,000 total cases.

In the UK, 2,988 new cases were announced on Sunday, with an additional 2,948 reported in the 24 hours up to 09:00 BST on Monday.

Areas of Scotland and Wales are to be subject to tighter Covid-19 restrictions, with home visits restricted from midnight on Tuesday morning in two areas in the west of Scotland, while the Welsh county borough of Caerphilly is to enter a local lockdown from 18:00 BST on Tuesday.

Prof Van Tam conceded that hospital admissions and deaths remained “at a very low level” in the UK, but warned younger generations, particularly 17 to 21-year-olds, that they could spread the infection to more vulnerable people.

He said: "Where case numbers rise initially in the younger parts of the population they do in turn filter through and start to give elevated rates of disease and hospital admissions in the older age groups, and we know that then becomes a serious public health problem.

"The fact that 17 to 21-year-olds are not becoming ill means they are lucky, but they also forget because the disease is not severe for them that they are potent spreaders."

Elsewhere, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced a change in England’s quarantine law, which allows for regional travel corridors so that a country’s islands can be placed under different conditions than its mainland.

The announcement came with a new quarantine measure for seven Greek islands, with travellers arriving from any of Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos, and Zakynthos [Zante] required to self-isolate for 14 days from 04:00 BST on Wednesday.

Photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash


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