Boris Johnson to get personally involved in Brexit talks as chief negotiator says he doesn’t answer to Dominic Cummings

Jon Stone

Boris Johnson will get personally involved in top-level Brexit talks next month as both sides try to avert a no-deal, the UK's chief negotiator has said.

David Frost confirmed to a parliamentary committee that "leader-level" discussions would be part of a planned EU-UK "stock-take" in June on how to unblock talks.

But he said the UK would stand "firm" on its position of refusing to extend the transition period to strike a deal, despite stalling progress in discussions and the coronavirus outbreak putting negotiators well behind schedule.

Michel Barnier, Mr Frost's EU counterpart, on Wednesday wrote to opposition leaders reminding them that the EU was open to an extension of up to two years to get a deal signed – a longstanding position.

"Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties," Mr Barnier said.

"The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter. Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before July 1, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the United Kingdom."

Turning to the story currently dominating Westminster, UK's chief negotiator Mr Frost appeared to dismiss a suggestion that Brexit talks would collapse without the involvement of Dominic Cummings, the embattled chief aide to the prime minister.

Asked about the role of Mr Cummings in the Brexit negotiations, Mr Frost said he had never been given an instruction by Mr Johnson's chief adviser.

Conservative MP Peter Bone asked: "What's your relationship with Dominic Cummings, do you have to report to him?

"Because he seemed to say this weekend that he was the gatekeeper to the Prime Minister and he decided who spoke to the Prime Minister about what. I mean, are you more senior to him or do you have to go through him?"

Mr Frost responded: "I report to the Prime Minister on the conduct of these negotiations and to the committee.

Boris Johnson's Europe adviser David Frost (Reuters)

"What I can say is I've never had an instruction on these negotiations from Mr Cummings and I don't think he would expect to give me one.

"He regards me as responsible for the negotiations because the Prime Minister gave me that task."

Unlike during withdrawal agreement talks, the government has a hefty majority and the opposition is unlikely to be able to force its hand on an extension - raising the risk of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year.

Responding to Mr Barnier's letter SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "Boris Johnson must finally put his responsibilities to jobs, living standards and the economy first, and agree the two-year extension on offer to the transition period.

"It would be madness to pile a Brexit crisis on top of the coronavirus crisis we already face - with unemployment soaring, businesses shedding jobs, and many struggling to survive.

"Time is running out. There is just a month left to agree an extension to prevent the UK crashing out with a devastating bad deal or a catastrophic no-deal.

"If the Prime Minister fails to agree an extension he will be responsible for every job lost, every income slashed, and every business that goes under as a result of his bad Brexit deal.

"The SNP will continue to press for a long extension to protect Scotland's economy - but the only way to guarantee Scotland's interests and protect our place at the heart of Europe is to become an independent country."

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