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Brexit talks to continue as Barnier self-isolates after test



Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Brexit talks are likely to continue by video and other electronic methods, as it emerged yesterday that the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has tested positive for coronavirus.

Brussels officials have also confirmed that an EU leaders' summit fixed for Thursday and Friday had now been "postponed to a later date" while a video summit is expected instead.

Mr Barnier said he had tested positive for the virus and opted for self-isolation.

Even before this news, the second round of post-Brexit EU-UK trade negotiations, due to take place in London this week, had already been cancelled because of the coronavirus.

London is now at the epicentre of Britain's virus infections and is on the verge of total lockdown.

But while coronavirus has scuttled face-to-face negotiations between the two sides, in Brussels there was a determination that a new way of sustaining negotiations must be found. Indications in London were that this was also the UK government view.

In Brussels, the virus fallout has increased speculation that the UK must extend its self-imposed December 31 deadline to strike a new long-term deal with the EU. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to refuse even discussing that idea, at least in public.

He quickly rubbished a report in 'The Daily Telegraph' that an extension would be sought.

Officials on both sides continued to study draft legal texts exchanged late on Wednesday containing their proposals for how relations between the two sides will work into the long-term future.

Officials close to the process have said the texts which were exchanged show how polarised both sides are at this point.

But there was encouragement in signals from London that - coronavirus or not - ways must be found to continue negotiations.

Irish Independent