The troubled Brexit trade and security talks have been suspended at the highest level after a member of Michel Barnier’s EU negotiating team tested positive for coronavirus.
The bloc’s chief negotiator tweeted that he had agreed with his British counterpart, David Frost, that the core teams would need to pause their face-to-face talks in Brussels.
Barnier wrote: “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19. With David Frost 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.”
Shortly after the announcement, Frost also issued a short statement. He tweeted: “I am in close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation. The health of our teams comes first. I would like to thank the European commission for their immediate help and support.”
It is understood that the two sides are examining the wider implications for the negotiation. In Belgium, anyone who has come into contact with someone who has tested positive must quarantine for 10 days.
It is yet to be seen how widely this will affect the UK and EU teams who have been locked in talks in Brussels since Monday.
The pause risks derailing an already tight deadline for a successful outcome from the trade and security talks. In six weeks the UK’s transition period will end and it will leave the EU’s single market and customs union.
The two sides have been aiming to strike a deal by next week to allow time for the European parliament to ratify the deal, with a possible emergency sitting on 28 December pencilled in. MEPs had hoped to already have started their scrutiny of the 600-page treaty.