Brexit trade talks could be DELAYED by coronavirus warns Philip Hammond

The virus outbreak has infected over 200 Britons. The UK is trying to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union before the end of the year. Speaking to the Sunday Times, the former Chancellor said: “If the virus starts to disrupt everyday life . . . and many other processes have slowed down as a consequence, there is no reason to think that Brexit trade talks will be immune, then the parties will have to work together in good faith to decide how to manage that.”

Boris Johnson, who removed the Tory whip from Mr Hammond, introduced legislation to prevent the transition period, in which Britain is out of the EU but the regulations still apply, being extended after December 31.

For an extension to happen both sides must agree to it before July 1.

Mr Hammond, who backed remain in the referendum, has been vocal about his concerns over a potential no deal exit, but he said he worried a recession caused by coronavirus would be worse.

He said the disruption to supply chains would be “similar” or at “greater levels”.

Mr Hammond called on the Government to access “critical and structural weakness in just-in-time supply chains” ahead of Rishi Sunak, the incumbent Chancellor’s budget.

He urged his successor to give business the chance to hold “resilience stocks” and mandate all firms to publish a “supply chain resilience statement” with their annual reports.

Mr Hammond explained no deal planning presumed goods would “stuck on the other side of the Channel” but coronavirus provided a different risk.

He said this could mean “goods and components are not being manufactured at all because factories have closed down and shipping is disrupted”.

He warned coronavirus might be the “catalyst for a tipping point in the economy”.

Mr Hammond explained: “Obviously if growth becomes negative the prospect of a recession looms.

“Growth is stronger in the UK than it is in quite a few other countries in Europe, but it’s not anywhere near as robust as we would have liked it to be going into this kind of crisis.”

He suggested Mr Sunak ought to even relax payment deadlines for VAT and PAYE.

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On the potential damage that could be caused, he said: “If the virus did last into the summer, and then we start to see the consequences of whatever is emerging from the Brexit process having an impact on confidence.

“The logical thing to do is to take a precautionary approach, build some reserves, conserve your capital, and I would expect the Chancellor to do exactly that and to signal very loudly and clearly that he will intervene, and if necessary would not wait for the next budget.”

On Thursday, a woman with underlying health problems became the first confirmed death in the UK linked to coronavirus.

The Royal Berkshire NHS Trust said the patient, understood to be in her 70s, was “in and out of hospital for non-coronavirus reasons”.

It was confirmed on Friday, a second man in his early 80s passed away after testing positive for coronavirus on Thursday.

Milton Keynes Hospital has isolated staff and patients who came into contact with him.

A British man has also died in Japan after being infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The Department for Health and Social Care tweeted on Saturday: “Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself and others.

“Wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds each time with soap and water, or use hand sanitiser.”

The advice was to do this when arriving at home or work, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing as well as when eating and handling food.

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