The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have written to Boris Johnson to call on him to extend the Brexit transition period.
In their letter, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford say ending the arrangement in December would be “extraordinarily reckless” amid the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister has repeatedly ruled out asking the EU for an extension – with the deadline for such a request passing at the end of this month.
Nevertheless, the first ministers argue the COVID-19 outbreak has changed things since Britain formally left the EU at the end of January after 47 years of membership.
During the transition period, Britain is maintaining the status quo of membership of the bloc and trying to negotiate a free trade agreement.
The pair said that without an extension, Britain would “at very best” be left with a “damaging ‘bare bones’ trade deal or even worse, a disastrous no deal outcome”.
“At the time the withdrawal agreement was signed, no-one could have imagined the enormous economic dislocation which the COVID-19 pandemic has caused – in Wales, Scotland, the whole of the UK, in the EU and across the world,” they said.
“While we hope that the second half of this year will see the beginnings of a recovery, we believe that exiting the transition period at the end of the year would be extraordinarily reckless.
“It would pile a further very significant economic and social shock on top of the COVID-19 crisis, hitting businesses whose reserves, in many case, have already been exhausted, leading to more business closures and redundancies.”
Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford said that because Britain can request an extension – and Brussels is open to one – “the shock would be avoidable”.
“No-one could reproach the UK government for changing its position in the light of the wholly unforeseeable COVID-19 crisis, particularly as the EU has made it clear it is open to an extension request,” the pair said.
“We therefore call on you to take the final opportunity which the next few weeks provide to ask for an extension to the transition period in order to provide a breathing space to complete the negotiations, to implement the outcome, and to give our businesses the opportunity to find their feet after the enormous disruption of recent months.”
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