Brexit talks to continue remotely after positive Covid-19 test in EU team

A member of Michel Barnier's team has fallen ill. Credit: PA

The post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU will continue remotely after a member of Michel Barnier's negotiation team tested positive for coronavirus.

The two sides have been meeting in Brussels with time running out to reach a deal before the Brexit transition arrangements expire at the end of the year.

To give greater hope of a deal being secured, both parties have agreed to carry on at a distance after originally halting talks on Thursday.

“With respect to the relevant public health guidance, the UK and EU teams have agreed to continue to negotiate remotely for the time being," a statement read.

"The talks will resume in person when it is judged safe to do so.

"The health and welfare of our staff are our priority.

“The negotiations have been conducted throughout in a way that is consistent with applicable social distancing laws and guidance.”

Mr Barnier, who has been leading talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost, said earlier on Thursday “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 said he was in “close contact” with Michel Barnier about the situation.

“The health of our teams comes first,” he said and thanked the European Commission for their help and support.

The major issues in the talks remain access to UK fishing waters, the “level playing field” designed to prevent unfair competition on issues including state subsidies and the governance arrangements for any agreement.

Going into this round of negotiations in Brussels Lord Frost said there had been “some progress in a positive direction in recent days” but “we may not succeed” in reaching a deal.

It is not the first time coronavirus has disrupted the talks.

In March, Mr Barnier contracted coronavirus while Lord Frost also self-isolated after developing symptoms.

There was better news in the UK’s negotiations for a trade deal with Canada as Downing Street said talks were at an “advanced stage” and “progressing well”.