FACE to face Brexit talks were SUSPENDED at the 11th hour today – throwing hopes for a quick fire trade deal into jeopardy.
Brussels’ chief negotiator announced high-level meetings have been pulled because one of his top team has tested positive for the virus.
But both sides are expected to continue to hold talks online as they race against the clock to get an agreement over the line.
It’s not yet clear if one or both chief negotiators will have to go into isolation.
Mr Barnier, who has been leading talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost, said today: “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for COVID-19.
“We have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period”.
“The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines,” he said.
Lord Frost added: “I am close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation.
“The health of our teams comes first. I would like to thank the EU Commission for their immediate help and support.”
Under Belgian health rules anyone who comes into contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus must self-isolate for up to 10 days.
The news comes at the worst possible time as talks go down to the wire.
Brexit negotiations have been intensified in an attempt to get a deal over the line.
Both sides have been clear that major obstacles still remain in the way of a deal, but are attempting a “final push” to close in.
HOAR revealed this week Lord Frost is said to be close to preparing for a “landing zone” – possibly as early as next week.
It came as:
- Canada and the UK are on the verge of sealing an agreement to roll over the EU’s trade deal next year
- Brussels leaders are pushing to ramp up No Deal preparations as talks remain on the brink
- Mr Barnier gave a gloomy update to Brussels’ top brass yesterday on the state of the talks – with both sides still not seeing eye-to-eye on fishing and common standards
Government sources played down the idea of an imminent deal, but didn’t rule out progress in the coming days.
Time is running out to seal an agreement before the 31 December, when Britain leaves the transition period.
And any idea has to be signed off by EU leaders and ratified with the other nations before it can take effect, too.
Belgian PM Alexander de Croo said the talks are already “in stoppage time” and that “it’s time to clarify what Brexit will look like”.
And he warned ports on both sides of the Channel face “congestion” and there will be “additional chaos” for companies if there’s No Deal.