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EU-UK face-to-face Brexit trade talks canceled due to coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain and the European Union agreed to cancel face-to-face trade negotiations planned for next week in London due to the coronavirus outbreak, the UK government said on Thursday, adding however that alternatives were being explored.

The move threatens a timeline which many in the EU thought was already optimistic, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking a new deal by the end of the year.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has hit financial markets hard and forced governments to take unprecedented measures to restrict citizens’ movements and limit the spread of the disease.

“Given the latest COVID-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled,” a British statement said.

“Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences.”

Speaking before Thursday’s announcement, British ministers had been adamant that there would be no extension to a one-year transition period – during which EU rules still apply to Britain – which is due to end on Dec. 31.

(Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Stephen Addison)