LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Negotiations between the UK and the European Union over their post-Brexit relationship are at risk of being delayed by the coronavirus, with Britain ruling out any extension to the talks.
Speaking to a panel of lawmakers in London on Wednesday (March 11), Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said whether the talks will go ahead as planned is now a "live question".
"We have had indications today from Belgium that there may be public health concerns," he said.
Any disruption would put an even greater squeeze on an already limited period for negotiations.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to walk away in June if he does not think he has a good chance of a deal. If no agreement is reached, the UK and the EU will default to trading on World Trade Organisation terms on Jan 1, 2020.
Mr Gove expressly ruled out any extension to that deadline.
"The course is set," he said. "It would be foolish for anyone to imagine the prime minister isn't going to stick to that timetable and stick to that commitment."
After the first round of discussions on Britain's future relationship last week, both sides played down the chances of a delay - but the EU has since cancelled all but the most urgent meetings on other issues in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The talks involve more than 100 negotiators from both sides.
The next round of negotiations, set to be held in London between March 18 and 20, is being kept under review, according to officials involved in the preparations. A decision to delay them could yet be made in coming days, they said. Separately, a joint EU-UK committee on Northern Ireland is due to meet on March 30.
"As far as I'm aware, the talks are still scheduled to go on without any changes," European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.