Despite the focus on the coronavirus pandemic, following the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January, the transition period will now run until the end of December. During this time the UK will continue to apply EU law but have no institutional representation or role in decision-making. This period is intended to bridge the gap between the UK’s exit from the EU and the coming into force of future UK-EU partnership arrangements that are to be negotiated during this time. Under the withdrawal agreement with the EU, the transition period can be extended by up to two years. However, the decision to extend must be taken by 1 July 2020. I think the government made the wrong decision in denying itself any flexibility by ruling itself out from requesting an extension.
I am increasingly concerned that the government will fail to agree a deal with the EU. As well as the impact on jobs in the North East, I am worried about a shortage in medical supplies. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has warned that stockpiles of medicine have been run down due to the coronavirus pandemic and cannot be rebuilt by the end of this year. The Labour Party will continue to seek clarity for people and businesses on this issue. I remain of the view that we should have as close a relationship as possible with the EU.