According to reports in UK newspaper The Guardian, German Ambassador to the EU Michael Clauss has in a letter criticised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans.
The letter berates Westminster’s hasty attitude towards Brexit proceedings during a time of both a public health and economic crisis, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, stating that the December timeline for agreeing a deal with the EU “was already hopelessly optimistic”, and that those who thought that the said negotiations could conclude as normal "were living in a fantasy land".
The statement went on to highlight the EU’s post-coronavirus pandemic plans.
"From now on, the focus will be on the ability of the European institutions to act, crisis management, exit and reconstruction – possibly maintaining the EU integration itself. The success of our presidency will be measured against this".
Boris Johnson, who is currently hospitalised following further complications stemming from COVID-19, had previously claimed that Westminster would be prepared to walk away from talks with the EU and sever ties with the bloc outright by the end of 2020 should a reasonable post-Brexit free trade deal not be forthcoming.
The two sides had of course clashed over issues such as freedom of movement, access to the single market, and fishing waters, in addition to security cooperation, but had been continuing their negotiations via online messaging platforms in a bid to ward off the threat of contracting the coronavirus.
Michael Clauss, in the letter, argued that this arrangement is not necessarily conducive to a successful outcome, writing:
"Video conferences, even if they can be carried out, will not be able to replace physical meetings on an equal footing. No formal quorum, no marginalised conversations, no confidentiality of the negotiations, no interpreting. Difficulties in text work".
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who also contracted COVID-19 but has since recovered, is now set to hold talks with his British counterpart David Frost next week, as the two sides aim to get the talks back on track. However, it remains to be seen whether a further extension of the transition period could be on the cards, given the exceptional circumstances brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.