EU diplomats and officials expect the prime minister to finally repeal his promise to leave the bloc's internal market and customs union by the end of the year. Personal negotiations were interrupted after just one round last week after it emerged that negotiators on both sides, David Frost and Michel Barnier, had isolated themselves. And as the global pandemic continues to spread at an alarming rate, the UK and the EU have focused efforts to bring the disease back under control.
European sources have claimed that there is simply not enough bandwidth to conduct trade talks and to deal with the political and economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis.
A senior EU diplomat said: “Depending on how the corona virus develops, we may have problems dealing with the UK negotiations.
“We have already said that it would be a tight schedule to get everything done within a year and now the negotiations are going on, but they are very difficult. I think that only reinforces the argument that many of us need more than a year. ”
Brussels is even ready to offer Mr. Johnson the opportunity to present a one-time extension after December 31 as a victory to help the Prime Minister sell the domestic delay.
With any delay, however, there would be a tense negotiation over the money that would bring Britain into the bloc's budget.
According to an EU source, the European capitals would also try to make these talks “manageable” for Mr. Johnson in order to bring an agreement down the line.
The Prime Minister has publicly denied that he is ready to stay past the end of the year beyond the EU rules, even if the corona virus stops negotiations.
After the negotiations were canceled last week, a spokesman for the British government said: "The transition period ends on December 31, 2020. This is enshrined in British law."
However, an EU ambassador indicated that Mr. Johnson's next move could reveal the type of agreement with Brussels that he was really looking for.
They said, "If they don't want an extension, they really want a tough Brexit on December 31st."
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Mr Gove is expected to meet his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic, the EU Commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations, on 30 March.
His deputy, Penny Mordaunt, the general paymaster, will involve him in the discussions that are expected to take place via conference calls.