Mr Francois, who is chairman of the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) was speaking as speculation mounted that a delay was imminent in response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic. He told “Fortunately, modern technology, such as video-conferencing and now Skype, makes it perfectly possible to negotiate over a distance, without having to physically be in the same room.

“So there is no reason why the negotiations should be delayed or the transition period should be extended.”

Transition talks between UK and EU negotiators were yesterday postponed yesterday after a statement issued by Number 10.

However Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman insisted both parties remained committed to negotiation negotiation and also stressed the deadline of the end of this year was enshrined in law.

Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic affairs tank was likewise sceptical about whether any delay was either necessary or desirable.

Mr Littlewood said: “Unravelling it would be as hard as carrying on with current deadlines.

“Ironically, the sort of protocols being but in place to deal with the virus are very similar to those dealing with a disorderly Brexit.

“It’s not quite a case of killing two birds with one stone, but not far off.

“Another irony is that ten weeks after Brexit, the UK is about the only European country with open borders.

“The shock to the system of continuing with Brexit is going to be tiny compared to the overall issue of dealing with the virus.”

Speculation is widespread that Johnson will have little choice but to request an extension beyond the end of 2020, given the massive economic disruption the pandemic is causing to the world’s economy.

Latest figures published by the World Health Organization (WHO) today suggest there are now more than 190,000 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus worldwide, as well as more than 7,800 deaths.

Italy is the hardest hit country in Europe with 31,506 cases, more than anywhere else except for mainland China itself, where the illness was first detected towards the end of last year.

In the United Kingdom there are now 1,954 cases, up 407 since Tuesday, representing the highest spike so far.

A total of 55 people have so far lost their lives.

Despite Downing Street’s denials, speculation is rife that Mr Johnson will have to accept a delay.

On Tuesday BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler tweeted: “Here in Brussels, a UK request to extend transition period is expected – when Johnson thinks timing is right/he can no longer put it off.

“A no deal situation considered bad for UK (and EU) as puts economy further under pressure when already struggling with #coronavirus #brexit”

Nevertheless any further delay to the process of taking the United Kingdom out of European Union is likely to prove highly contentious, given the complexities and wrangling which have characterised the process so far.

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