İrem UZUN -TDO- The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator announced the suspension of trade talks with the UK on Thursday after a member of his team became infected with COVID-19. Michel Barnier said officials would continue to work on the text of a trade deal but that he and his UK counterpart, David Frost, had “decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period”.  While high-level talks are suspended, negotiating teams “will continue their work in full respect of guidelines”, he said.

The pause risks derailing an already tight deadline for a successful outcome from the talks, which were already stalled in March when both Barnier and Frost contracted the virus.  Despite difficult discussions on the most contentious issues, the two sides had been aiming to strike an agreement by next week to allow time for the European parliament to ratify any potential deal. Both sides are seeking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK's post-Brexit transition period ends in January 2021. Fishing rights, competition rules and how any deal would be enforced remain key areas of disagreement.

Some EU member states including the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Spain asked the executive European Commission - which is negotiating with Britain on behalf of the bloc - to update emergency plans for a possible no-deal Brexit. On Friday, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen will update member states’ envoys to Brussels on latest developments on Brexit.

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