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Door still ‘ajar’ to Brexit trade deal despite calling off talks, Michael Gove claims



Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has insisted that the door is “ajar” for post-Brexit trade talks to continue with the EU – so long as they move ground in key areas – after Downing Street declared negotiations as “over”.

Talks have stalled due to disagreements over fishing access and competition issues, with Mr Gove accusing EU officials of not being serious about making compromises, adding they would have to back down if chief negotiator Michel Barnier is to resume negotiations in London this week.

His warning on Sunday came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused European leaders of having “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” and told the country to “get ready” for leaving without one.

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Meanwhile, Downing Street negotiator Lord Frost told his EU counterpart not to travel for planned talks, with the UK calling for a fundamental change in direction of the bloc’s approach.

However, Mr Gove left room for talks to get a trade deal in order to prevent the high trade tariffs the UK faces from December 31 when the transition period ends.

No picnic

Mr Johnson has said unless there is a “fundamental change in approach” from the European Union then the UK will go for the ‘Australia solution’ (Photo: Downing Street /PA)

When asked if the door is still open to talks on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove said: “It is ajar; we hope the EU will change their position, we’re certainly not saying that if they do change their position we can’t talk to them.”

But, he added that “we are ready if required” to leave without a trade deal, which he admitted would not “be a picnic”.

He earlier told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the chances of getting a deal are “less” than the 66 per cent he had previously predicted.

He added: “It’s less. I can’t be precise, but one of the reasons why it’s less is the position that’s been taken in the last couple of weeks by European Union leaders.

He claimed the EU has refused to work on a detailed legal draft text during negotiations and was not “willing to intensify the talks”, while making unacceptable demands on fishing waters.

Mr Gove added: “And so that seems to me to be the behaviour of an organisation and an institution that is not serious about making the compromises necessary to secure a deal.”

Asked if talks could resume with Mr Barnier, he replied: “The ball is in his court. We’ve made clear that we need to see a change in approach from the European Union.

“I know that he’ll be calling David Frost over the course of the next few days; let’s see if the European Union appreciate the importance of reaching a deal and the importance of making ground.”

Compromise in the national interest

European Commissions UK Task Force Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier (L) and the President of the European Council Charles Michel (R) (Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty)

Lord Frost and Mr Barnier are due to hold a call early this week and Mr Gove will meet his counterpart on the UK-EU joint committee, Maros Sefcovic, in London on Monday.

Meanwhile, groups representing 190,000 businesses and seven million workers have made an urgent plea for high tariffs to be avoided by brokering a trade deal with the EU.

The CBI and other organisations warned that firms “face a hat-trick of unprecedented challenges” in rebuilding from the first coronavirus wave, dealing with the second and uncertainty on trading with the EU.

They said: “With each day that passes, business resilience is chipped away. A swift deal is the single most effective way to support recovery in communities across Europe.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Mr Johnson to compromise in order to get an agreement “in the national interest”.

Sir Keir told the BBC’s Politics Wales show: “The Prime Minister said he had an oven ready deal. He should get on and deliver that.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there was “no point” in Mr Barnier travelling to London unless the 27 EU member states were willing to alter their position or wanted to discuss sector by sector arrangements to prepare for no deal.

“The trade talks are over. The EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position,” the spokesman said.