The Cabinet Office Minister promised the Brexit transition period will not be extended beyond December 31 – saying the Coronavirus crisis should “focus minds” in negotiations. He hit back after top EU diplomat Michel Barnier described progress in the trade talks as “disappointing”, suggesting they should be extended. The French politician also accused the UK of a failure to engage with Brussels on key issues.
His sniping came after the first of three rounds of talks planned before June broke up last week with little sign of early breakthroughs.
But the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told MPs today that the end-of-year deadline remains in place.
“We believe it is still entirely possible to conclude negotiations on the timetable that has been outlined,” he said.
“I think the coronavirus crisis should concentrate the minds of EU negotiators, underlining the vital importance of coming to a conclusion.”
Mr Gove, appearing via videolink in front of the Future Relationship with the EU Committee, said the odds of a trade agreement being reached with the EU were “definitely better than two to one.”
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Michael Gove was speaking at today’s select committee
Asked if the UK would walk away from talks in six weeks time, Mr Gove said both sides wanted to make progress but agreed that there would be a “review of the situation at the end of June”.
The Cabinet Office minister said that the deal “should be relatively rapid to secure” because the Treaty of Rome, founding the EEC, “concluded in space of less than a year”.
Mr Gove also admitted that extending the transition period would cost taxpayers money.
“Remaining in the transition period would mean we would have to pay the EU money which many of you might think would be better spent on the NHS or supporting our economy,” he added.
The spat with Brussels intensified further today when Downing Street indicated that the failure of talks so far was on the EU side.
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No.10 accused the EU side of failing to accept the “political realities” of the UK’s newly independent status.
“We are ready to keep talking but that does not make us any more likely to agree to the EU’s proposals in areas where they are not taking into account the UK’s status as an independent state,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“All we are seeking is an agreement based on precedent which respects the sovereignty of both sides.
“Clearly there will need to be political movement on the EU side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field issues, in order to help find a balanced solution which reflects the political realities on both sides.”
The transition period, which kept the UK aligned to the EU’s single market and customs union rules to allow trade to flow smoothly after Brexit, expires at the end of the year unless both sides agree to an extension – something Boris Johnson has ruled out.
“We are quite clear that we are leaving the transition period on December 31, we will work with the EU to try to do that with a deal,” the PM’s spokesman added.
“But nobody should be in any doubt that the transition period is going to end on December 31.”
Two more week-long rounds of negotiations between the sides are scheduled, starting on May 11 and June 1.