BRUSSELS – Michel Barnier, the European Union's chief negotiator for the bloc's future relationship with Britain after Brexit, has been infected with the new coronavirus.
The 69-year-old Barnier said in a Twitter video message Thursday that he is doing well and is in good spirits, while the EU's executive arm said negotiations with British officials can continue.
"I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team," Barnier said from his home, where he has been confined. “For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.”
Barnier's announcement prompted a series of good wishes messages, including from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said von der Leyen will be tested following Barnier's positive result. Barnier and the EU chief last met two weeks ago. So far she has not shown any symptom of illness. Michel's press service said he is well, too, but will “telework at home for another two days" as a matter of precaution after meeting with Barnier 12 days ago.
Even before Barnier's tweet, the second round of post-Brexit trade negotiations that was due to take place in London this week had already been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. London is the epicenter of Britain's virus infections.
The pandemic has scuttled face-to-face negotiations between the two sides and has increased speculation that the U.K. government will have to extend its self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to strike a deal with the bloc. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is refusing to discuss that idea, at least in public. On Wednesday he said the Dec. 31 date was enshrined in British law, and “I have no intention of changing it.”
Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said “we send Michel Barnier our best wishes.” He would not comment on whether the transition period could be extended beyond the end of 2020.