The EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Picture: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON
The EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Picture: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON

Brussels — Crunch talks over a post-Brexit trade agreement were disrupted on Thursday when one EU official involved in the negotiations tested positive for the coronavirus.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said in a tweet that he would suspend talks with his UK counterpart David Frost “for a short period”. Barnier added, however, that the two teams will continue their work “in full respect of guidelines”.

The pound was little-changed on the news, trading 0.4% lower against the dollar at 4pm in Brussels.

It’s unclear how the interruption will affect the deliberations just 41 days before the end of the post-Brexit transition period. The two sides are trying to reach an agreement by early next week to allow time for any accord to be ratified before year end.

One senior EU official said on Wednesday that the two sides had yet to bridge their differences over fishing, the level playing field for businesses, and the governance of a potential trade agreement. Barnier was scheduled to brief EU government envoys in Brussels about the state of the talks on Friday morning.

This isn’t the first time the coronavirus has disrupted the negotiations. In March, Barnier, Frost and several members of their teams were forced into isolation after either testing positive for, or showing symptoms of, Covid-19. The two sides were also forced to suspend face-to-face discussions as Europe went into a continent-wide lockdown.

“The health of our teams comes first,” Frost said in a tweet, adding that he is in close contact with Barnier about the situation.


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