EU’s Brexit Top Negotiator Barnier Has Coronavirus

BRUSSELS (Reuters/AP) -
European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

The European Union’s chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, said on Thursday he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I would like to inform you that I have tested positive for COVID-19. I am doing well and in good spirits. I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” he said on Twitter.

“For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.”

Even before Barnier’s announcement, the second round of post-Brexit trade negotiations that was due to take place in London this week had already been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Negotiating teams from both sides said they were looking at alternative ways of continuing the negotiations, including by video conferencing. London is the epicenter of Britain’s virus outbreak.

Although Britain left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, it remains part of the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants a comprehensive trade deal completed this year. The Conservative leader says he won’t seek an extension to the country’s current transition period, insisting that 11 months is more than enough time to secure a wide-ranging deal with the EU for goods and services.

Under the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU, the country can request a one-time extension to the transition for up two years.

The coronavirus outbreak, though, has raised questions as to whether a Brexit trade deal can now be completed in time, given the increasingly onerous restrictions on travel and work being put in place as a result of the outbreak.

Opposition lawmakers from the Labour Party have said the Johnson should ask for an extension given how an already tight timetable has been made even tighter by the virus.

The talks began earlier this month in Brussels, and are due to alternate between the EU’s headquarters and London.