THE SNP leadership has again appealed to Boris Johnson to “stop the blind Brexit dogma” and avoid causing “unforgivable damage” to businesses and people’s jobs by agreeing to a maximum two-year extension to the transition period.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ian Blackford urged him to “show leadership” on the issue of the trade talks with the EU and called for a meeting in the coming days to discuss the UK Government's wider response to the coronavirus crisis.

"Boris Johnson must put his responsibilities to the UK economy ahead of the demands of Tory hardliners and urgently agree a two-year extension to the Brexit transition period,” declared Mr Blackford.

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"Ploughing ahead with a hard Brexit deadline – and threatening the disaster of no-deal – in the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis would cause unforgivable damage to jobs, businesses, living standards and the economy.

"The clock is ticking; the Tory leader must show leadership. Many businesses would struggle to survive another crisis piled onto the one we already face.

"The SNP will continue to press the UK Government to deliver increased financial support for people and businesses and for a Brexit extension to avoid further damage we simply cannot afford," he added.

In his letter, the Highland MP insists that the national focus must be on fighting the coronavirus outbreak and “all other political agendas need to be paused”.

He insists: “That means that it is now your duty to show some leadership, pause the EU negotiations and seek an extension to the transition period.

“All logic, and any degree of sense, points to the foolishness and irresponsibility of attempting to negotiate an entirely new, and distant, relationship with the European Union, in the midst of the worst health pandemic in a century.

“It will also not have escaped your notice that senior EU figures are increasingly acknowledging the inevitability of seeking an extension of the transition. It is now time for government to stop the blind Brexit dogma; securing an extension is the only responsible option.”

Mr Blackford warns crashing out of the EU with a bad deal or no deal this year would be the final blow for many businesses that were already struggling to survive.

“It would leave people even poorer and worse off at a time of greatest need,” he stresses.

The SNP leader notes how Mr Johnson has since the 2016 referendum embodied and led the Brexit cause but he tells him: “In the face of this health emergency, it is your duty to demonstrate some political courage and explain to those who have supported you in your Brexit efforts that a further EU transition is now needed.

“As I have told you before, I am not asking you to change your views on Brexit, I am simply asking you to recognise reality.”

Mr Blackford’s appeal comes after Michael Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, last week called for a two-year extension to the transition period, saying: “The benefits of co-ordinated European action have never been clearer. An extended transition will keep the UK as close as possible to the EU and provide an opportunity to rethink the future relationship.”

But Downing St dismissed the suggestion with a spokeswoman insisting: "The transition period ends on December 31 2020, as enshrined in UK law, which the Prime Minister has made clear he has no intention of changing."

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The UK-EU talks have become entangled in sharp exchanges, particularly over the sensitive issue of fishing rights. The EU, spearheaded by France, wants a continuation of the quota system currently running under the Common Fisheries Policy while the UK is insisting that Brussels is failing to recognise that from December 31 Britain will become a sovereign independent coastal state in charge of its fishing waters.

Both sides are due at the end of June to take stock of the progress of the talks; or the lack of it.