BREXIT secretary Michael Russell says failing to halt the exit from the EU during the coronavirus pandemic will leave the UK facing an “economic Stone Age” while the rest of Europe recovers.

Despite the crisis engulfing the country, UK Cabinet minister Michael Gove (below) last week rejected a request by Russell to pause the withdrawal negotiations. The UK Government has emphasised that there is “no intention” of changing the end of the transition period from December 31, 2020.

Discussions will take place this week to set the timetable for negotiations in April and May.

READ MORE: Michael Russell: When we rebuild there’s no place for Brexit

Writing in the Sunday National, Russell said the point at which the impact of Brexit will kick in will be when the “economy is reeling from the worst crisis in our lifetimes ... in the view of the IMF, comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s”.

The National:

He said: “Yet the UK Government – alone – believes that the economically regressive effect of a self-inflicted Brexit can be blithely added to that mix as well.

“If it does so, then the UK will, in full view of the rest of the world, be fiddling its way back to an economic Stone Age.”

Russell said pausing the Brexit negotiation process is “essential” by the deadline of July 1, and it should be the two full years which can be requested.

The Scottish Government has paused plans for a second independence referendum during the coronavirus crisis.

READ MORE: Anger at Tory plans to push on with Brexit talks during coronavirus

However, a leading Europe expert said a delay to Brexit could potentially lead to indyref2 being held before the end of the transition period – making it easier for Scotland to rejoin the EU.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, of the Scottish Centre on European Relations think tank, said the potential extension of transition until the end of 2022 would “change the debate” around an independent Scotland in the EU.

She said: “Obviously there are all sorts of questions – the coronavirus crisis has and is changing our politics.

“We don’t know where it is going, we don’t know where support for independence will go when the economy is looking battered.

“But imagine you have successful independence referendum, let’s say in early 2022, and the UK hasn’t left the EU’s customs union and single market. I think that opens up a very interesting discussion to be had at that point between the Scottish Government, the UK Government and Brussels about how to handle that.

"In the time that UK/Scotland divorce talks took place, there could be less divergence and therefore basically an easier and faster path back into the EU.”

The National:

Last week a leaked letter revealed EU officials had described Johnson’s plans to get a Brexit deal by the end of December as “fantasy land”.

Yesterday Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said Downing Street still believes a deal can be struck and it is “premature” to argue otherwise.

However, he said he was a “pragmatist” on the issue and if the outbreak lasts longer than expected, conversations should be held over extending the transition deadline.

READ MORE: Two-thirds of Scots want Brexit to be delayed, new poll reveals

Hughes said while there was still contact between London and Brussels, there is nothing resembling “normal negotiations”. “Any rational politician would certainly extend transition, but Boris Johnson and the Brexiteer ideology doesn’t really deal in those sort of rational facts, even though we are now in the middle of a crisis,” she said.

“When you have more or less nationalised the railways and you are handing out money to support employees in furlough, how are you going to discuss what sort of trade deal you want, and consult businesses that don’t know in what way they will exist? Will Boris Johnson be pushed kicking and screaming to extend transition, maybe at the last minute? I think that must be very likely.”

Hughes said the prospect of the UK asking to go back into the EU was “very unlikely” unless the Covid-19 crisis led to a major shift in public opinion and a UK Government of national unity.

READ MORE: SNP push Keir Starmer to help secure Brexit talk pause

“If we hadn’t left at the end of January and we were still in that Article 50 extension, all bets would be off.”

She added: “Because we have left the EU, they have still got to decide what the future UK-EU relationship looks like.

“Given the long aftermath which is going to come out of this crisis – politically, socially, economically – you would have thought there was a chance to have a real reset on how the UK and EU talk to each other, how they can really have a strategic look at how to live together in future.”

Scotland is in lockdown. Shops are closing and newspaper sales are falling fast. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of The National is at stake. Please consider supporting us through this with a digital subscription from just £2 for 2 months by following this link: Thanks – and stay safe.