Top-level talks on a post-Brexit trade deal have been suspended after a member of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus.
The two sides have been meeting in Brussels with time running out to reach a deal before the Brexit transition arrangements expire at the end of the year.
Barnier, who has been leading talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost, said “we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period”.
“The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines,” he said.
Frost said he was in “close contact” with Barnier about the situation. “The health of our teams comes first,” he said and thanked the European Commission for their help and support.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wished the member of the negotiating team a “speedy recovery”. She said work would continue “in full respect of” Covid-19 rules.
UK officials in Brussels are working with the EU to discuss what will happen next.
A government spokesperson said: “The Commission has informed us that an official in their delegation has tested positive for Covid-19.
“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations.
“We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare our teams.”
The unwanted development comes with the negotiations at a crucial point.
The need for any deal to be approved by the European Parliament and member states means there is very little time left for negotiations.
The major issues in the talks remain access to UK fishing waters, the “level playing field” designed to prevent unfair competition on issues including state subsidies and the governance arrangements for any agreement.
Going into this round of negotiations in Brussels, Frost said there had been “some progress in a positive direction in recent days” but “we may not succeed” in reaching a deal.