Coronavirus: Britain's Brexit chief in isolation with virus symptoms

David Frost (left) and Michel Barnier at the first round of post-Brexit trade deal talks, March 2, 2020
David Frost (left) and Michel Barnier at the first round of post-Brexit trade deal talks, March 2, 2020PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain.’s chief negotiator for its trade talks with the European Union, David Frost, is isolating himself after showing symptoms of coronavirus, a British official said.

It comes after Michel Barnier, Frost’s EU counterpart, announced on Twitter earlier on Thursday that he had tested positive for the disease.

The two men had not had contact since the first round of talks in Brussels two weeks ago.

But the news is likely to crush any hopes that the negotiations over the two sides’ future trade relationship can make any substantial progress while the global pandemic continues. 

This week’s round of talks, scheduled for London, had already been put on hold.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed calls to seek an extension to the negotiating period that Britain entered after leaving the bloc on Jan 31.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal on their future partnership by the end of this year, Britain would have to trade with the EU with tariffs and quotas.

Frost, 55, was credited with working to achieve the unlikely breakthrough in negotiations last year which resulted in Johnson sealing an exit deal with the EU.

He is hugely influential on Brexit policy in Johnson’s administration and is liked and trusted by his EU counterparts.

 

Barnier, 69, said he was in good spirits and is following all the necessary instructions after he tested positive for Covid-19.

The virus pandemic has already disrupted the negotiations even before the two leading figures in the talks were put out of action.

The second round of face-to-face talks on the future trade agreement were due to take place in London this week but were postponed on Wednesday.

Officials are now trying to work out whether it will be possible to conduct the negotiation through different formats – potentially involving video conferencing, or continuous rolling discussions, rather than several days set aside for intensive talks.