UK says ‘health comes first’ as talks with EU suspended

The UK’s chief negotiator David Frost has said that the health of the British and European Union (EU) negotiating teams “comes first”, as both sides have decided to suspend their post-Brexit talks after one member tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“I am in close contact with @michelbarnier (EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier) about the situation. The health of our teams comes first,” Xinhua news agency quoted Frost as saying in a tweet on Thursday.

Also taking to Twitter, Barnier said: “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19.

“With @DavidGHFrost 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.”

The suspension came after the UK and the EU resumed a new round of trade talks in Brussels on Monday.

Prior to this week’s talks, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said that the country’s red lines remain unchanged and “we’re preparing for whatever the outcome is”.

Echoing Hancock, a spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged more realism from the EU.

The two sides started their lengthy and bumpy post-Brexit talks in March after the UK ended its EU membership on January 31, trying to secure a future trade deal before the Brexit transition period expires.

Serious divergences remain in level playing field, governance and fisheries, among others, after rounds of talks.

Following a phone conversation in early November, Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said that both sides would “redouble” their efforts.

The two leaders had phone conversations several times instead of face-to-face discussions due to the pandemic.