BORIS JOHNSON will be forced to delay Brexit as his Government machine focuses its efforts on combating the deadly coronavirus outbreak, business leaders have claimed.
They say an extension to the transition period is inevitable because there is not enough “bandwidth” to carry out trade negotiations with the European Union and tackle the global pandemic at the same time.
Publicly the Prime Minister has said he won’t delay Britain’s departure from the bloc’s single market and customs union beyond the end of the year. But business lobbyists, who hold regular meetings with Government officials, believe Mr Johnson could be about to accept the need for a one-off extension to the transition period.
They claim he is simply readying a strategy to sell a further Brexit delay to the British public.
Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, told Bloomberg: “There’s absolutely no bandwidth for anything other than COVID-19.
“There’s no time, energy, money or interest at the moment to focus on Brexit.”
She has had a host of meetings to discuss issues like a shortage of customs agents cancelled as coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK continue to grow.
Lobbyists believe Mr Johnson will make a decision on the delay closer to the June 30 cut-off date in his EU Withdrawal Agreement.
They claim the Prime Minister will finally decide after a closer look at the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on the economy.
Helen Brocklebank, CEO of luxury sector representatives Walpole, said: “Everyone is hoping for an extension.
“Brexit is very much taking a back seat at the moment as companies fight to survive.”
Some businesses fear they will not have adequate time to prepare for Britain’s new trading relationship with Brussels after being forced to overcome the economic and political fallout caused by the global pandemic.
Mr Johnson has ordered his negotiators to secure a Canada-style free-trade agreement, which would reduce trade tariffs on goods but introduce swathes of new procedures, such as extra customs paperwork.
Peter Hardwick, a trade policy adviser for the British Meat Processors Association, said: “Brexit planning has fallen off a cliff.
“All operational staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been diverted to COVID-19 work.”
Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, warned there isn’t enough time to implement the new systems to handle the necessary border checks on UK-EU trade.
“Those were huge projects for the UK Government before the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
“Day by day, it’s increasingly difficult to see how the original time-lines can be achieved.”
Under the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, Britain remains in the EU’s single market and customs union until the end of the year, Express UK reported