As coronavirus spreads, don’t forget Brexit – leader comment

Spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus is a serious threat to human health and also the global economy, so allowing a no-deal Brexit would be beyond reckless.

Boris Johnson must avoid a no-deal Brexit (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Once Brexit so occupied our thoughts, that other pressing issues were almost forgotten. There were many “good days to bury bad news” to quote an infamous phrase.

The rising number of coronavirus cases in the UK and other countries around the world is, quite rightly, now dominating the media headlines, including those in The Scotsman.

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However, we must not forget other vital issues and, in particular, Brexit.

According to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, there are “very serious divergences” between the positions taken by London and Brussels following the first round of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Boris Johnson has set an extremely optimistic and difficult deadline of the end of this year to agree a deal. And if this does not happen, the UK will leave the EU without one – the much-feared ‘no-deal Brexit’, which some experts fear could seriously damage not just the UK’s economy – on a scale comparable with the 2008 financial crash – but the entire world’s.

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However, the UK Government has warned that if there is not significant progress towards a deal by June, then it could walk away from the talks. So, the talks are going badly and there are just three months to turn this situation around.

Economists were already flagging up warning signs that the world was heading for a slowdown before the coronavirus outbreak began. If it continues to spread and becomes a full-scale pandemic, the damage will be severe.

Deliberately allowing a no-deal Brexit in such circumstances would be beyond reckless, an act of gross stupidity.

There is no need to stick to Johnson’s arbitrary deadline to reach a deal. There is a need to ensure the UK leaves with a deal that minimises the economic damage to this country to the greatest extent possible.

Once Brexiteers promised a ‘have-our-cake-and-eat-it’ deal in which the UK could throw off the shackles imposed by Brussels but still have all the benefits of EU membership.

This was always complete nonsense. The EU would be signing up to its own destruction to agree to such an arrangement.

But Johnson and co should remember their promises and the people who bought into them, voting to leave the EU in the hope of a better life after long years of austerity. If the Brexit dream becomes a nightmare, they will not be forgiven.