Boris Johnson is willing to extend the Brexit transition period beyond the end of the year as a result of the coronavirus, the Mirror has learned.
Despite the Prime Minister’s public denials that he would consider a delay, a senior Tory insider revealed that he would “of course” be prepared to move the UK’s final departure date.
The UK and Brussels were due to hold a second round of face-to-face talks to hammer out a trade deal this week but they were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Downing Street has strongly denied claims that the PM may be planning to delay, with one source claiming: “The PM is 100% not in that space, not even remotely.”
Mr Johnson told MPs today: “Our priority is to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and the other matter [the end of the transition period] has been legislated for”.
But the source, who knows the PM’s thinking on Brexit, told the Mirror: “We could still get a deal done in time, but he will extend the transition if he has to.
“They have to stick to the tough rhetoric now – just like they did in October – to keep the pressure on the EU.
“But if it comes to it, and a deal looks doable were it not for the coronavirus outbreak, then of course they’d delay.”
A Cabinet minister told the Mirror there would always be “a political price to pay” for extending the transition period. But they added: “Now, there is cover.”
They added that the outbreak “may alter the whole shape of what Brexit eventually looks like”.
Although the Government has legislated for the end of the Brexit transition on January 31st, it could easily amend that law if Mr Johnson is forced to perform a U-turn.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other senior EU figures said before the coronavirus outbreak there was not enough time for a deal to be agreed.
The pandemic has piled even more pressure on the UK to sign up to an extension – which it would have to do by June with the agreement of both sides.
But Government sources believe a request for to extend would be made “sooner rather than later” as a result of the coronavirus disruption.
Whitehall insiders said any extension was not under active discussion as the Government focuses on the epidemic – but believe the end date is no longer set in stone.
After this week’s talks were cancelled, a spokesman said: “Both sides remain fully committed to the negotiations and we remain in regular contact with the European Commission to consider alternative ways to continue discussions, including looking at the possibility of video conferencing or conference calls, and exploring flexibility in the structure for the coming weeks.”
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