LISTEN: SDLP's Colum Eastwood signs letter to EU chief negotiator seeking transition extension

By Brett Campbell and Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor

 

A number of MPs from Northern Ireland have signed a letter to Europe's chief Brexit negotiator supporting an extension to the transition period. 

Alliance's Stephen Farry has joined SNP and Lib Dem politicians to tell Michel Barnier there's "significant opposition" to the UK Government's refusal to extend the timetable for talks.

Opposition MPs want discussions on future trade to take place once the coronavirus pandemic has been dealt with. 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is also among the signatories. 

Both the SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford and the acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey have signed the letter aiming to ensure talks take place when "the efforts of national governments and the European Union will not be engaged solely with dealing with the dreadful Covid-19 epidemic".

With the UK having formally quit the European Union, talks are taking place between the UK and EU to determine key areas such as future trading relationships.

But with the transition period due to expire at the end of this year, there are fears the UK may be forced into a no-deal scenario, if an agreement cannot be reached.

The letter to Mr Barnier has also been signed by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Stephen Farry, MP from the Alliance Party, as well as fellow Northern Ireland MP Colum Eastwood of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

They contacted Mr Barnier to highlight the "significant opposition to the UK Government's extreme position amongst the business community, the general public and elected representatives".

The opposition MPs noted the Scottish and Welsh governments both backed an extension of the transition period, along with "the majority of political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive".

The MPs said: "A consensus is taking shape and we hope the UK Government will soon recognise reality.

"It is now in all of our common interests to agree and secure an extension to the transition period. This will enable these detailed and defining negotiations to be conducted at a time when, we hope, the efforts of national governments and the European Union will not be engaged solely with dealing with the dreadful Covid-19 epidemic."

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said they had written to Mr Barnier because "time is running out until we hit the hard Brexit deadline".

He insisted: "It is vital that the Tory government does the only responsible thing and accepts a two-year extension to the transition period."

The SNP MP continued: "Crashing out with a bad deal or no deal in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, would deal a double hammer blow to the economy just when we will need all the help we can get to save jobs, businesses and living standards."

But he claimed: "It increasingly appears the Tory government is intent on taking Scotland and the UK down the path of a devastating no-deal. That would be beyond reckless.

"The coronavirus economic crash is the worst in living memory. People and businesses are already struggling to get by. The Tory government must put its responsibilities to the economy ahead of its Brexit obsession.

"Polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland and across the UK want to see an extension to the Brexit transition period - and there is growing consensus across political parties. It's time for the UK Government to act."

A UK Government spokesman said: "The Government was elected on a manifesto which made clear the transition period would end on December 31, 2020. That is enshrined in primary legislation and it remains our policy.

"We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks we will say no.

"Extending the transition period would simply increase uncertainty and prolong the negotiations, whilst also leaving us bound by EU legislation and obliged to make further payments into the EU budget."

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