Brexit on the brink: Coronavirus chaos could throw trade talks into turmoil warns EU chief

The EU’s ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, warned the coronavirus outbreak could have an impact on Brexit trade negotiations in the timetable. It comes as cases of COVID-19 have soared in Italy resulting in 631 deaths as of the time of writing. The country has since been put into lockdown until early April.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Vale de Almeida said: “I don’t think we can exclude anything at this point in time given the magnitude of this crisis.

“For the moment we are working according to plan.

“We had the first round of negotiations last week in Brussels and we are preparing the second round here in London from Wednesday of next week.

“For the moment we will go according to plan but we will see how things go.”

He added: “I think both sides are very ambitious.

“We have until the end of the year because the British authorities decided not to ask for an extension.

“We are very focused because we need to deliver.

“I think this is a highly important deal and we are committed and we know the British authorities are as well.”

It comes amid fears Brexit could prevent Britain getting its hands on a coronavirus vaccine quickly and cheaply, health experts have warned.

A vaccine against the potential deadly flu-like virus is not expected to be available for more than a year by which time the UK could be outside the authority of the EU’s medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

And pharmaceutical firms are more likely to prioritise the EU market rather than submitting their drug to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency first.

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Olivier Wouters, assistant professor of health policy at the London School of Economics, told politico.eu: “The European Medicines Agency is representing a patient pool of 500 million-odd patients. That seems like a more lucrative market for a drug company or a vaccine maker to prioritise.”

The EMA has an emergency procedure for the fast-track approval of a new vaccine in the event of a pandemic with authorisation given in 70 days instead of the usual 210 days.

Mr Wouters said a British plea for special access to this system was “theoretically possible” but doubted it would be successful.

He said: “I’m not sure that the European counterparts would accept the UK authorities cherry-picking where they want to be part of European legislation and take part in European initiatives.”

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