Brexit: Michael Gove steps up war of words, claims EU has 'refused' to intensify talks

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  • October 19, 2020
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Michael Gove claimed the EU is refusing to intensify talks in order to reach a trade deal agreement — just minutes after Michel Barnier insisted the EU was willing to negotiate.

The Cabinet Office Minister was updating the Commons following a number of discussions between the EU and UK today.

He said that Boris Johnson and European commission president Ursula von der Leyen had agreed on October 3 that their teams would work “intensively” to bridge the remaining gaps.

He told MPs: “We made clear that we were willing to talk every day. But I have to report to the house that this intensification was not forthcoming.

“The EU was only willing to conduct negotiations on fewer than half the days available and would not engage on all of the outstanding issues.

“Moreover, the EU refused to discuss legal texts in any area as it has done since the summer. Indeed it’s almost incredible to our negotiators we have reached this point in the negotiations without any common legal texts of any kind.”

Just minutes before Mr Gove stood up in the chamber, the EU’s chief negotiator Mr Barnier tweeted: “I just spoke to [Lord Frost]. As stated by President [Ursula von der Leyen] on Friday, I confirmed that the EU remains available to intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts. We now wait for the UK’s reaction.”

It comes after negotiations were left in limbo when EU leaders last week called on the UK to budge in order to secure a trade deal.

The Cabinet Office Minister was updating the Commons following a number of discussions between the EU and UK today (PA)

In response Boris Johnson told the nation to prepare for no-deal, after his deadline for a free trade deal passed with fisheries remaining one of the major sticking points.

Mr Gove made the statement following a face-to-face meeting this morning with his EU counterpart Maroš Šefčovič.

The UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost also spoke to his opposite, Michel Barnier, over the phone today to discuss the structure of any possible future talks.

Lord Frost told his counterpart not to travel to London for the planned meeting after he was left “disappointed” by the conclusions of last week’s European Council summit.

A source close to the talks said the UK needed fundamental change from the EU and proper intensive discussion.

Michel Barnier said “the EU remains available to intensify talks” (AFP via Getty Images)

It also comes after an awkward exchange with Business Secretary Alok Sharma on LBC this morning in which he was asked 11 times to clarify what an Australian trade deal meant.

Asked if an Australia deal was another term for no-deal, Mr Sharma told LBC: “It depends, you can use the phrase ‘no deal’, but the point is there is a deal.”

He added: “It’s a question of semantics at the end of the day, sure.”

Fellow cabinet minister Robert Jenrick meanwhile called on the EU to show “maturity” in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.

The Communities Secretary, told Sky News: “The EU have not shown the flexibility that we would wish them to have shown.

“So unless something changes, unless they are willing to come back to us and show that degree of flexibility and maturity, we will leave at the end of the year, the transition period, and trade on the sorts of arrangements that Australia has and a number of other countries around the world.”

Downing Street has stressed that if no deal is in place by the end of the transition period on December 31 the UK will not return to the negotiating table in 2021.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “If the EU change their position then we will be willing to talk to them.

“But they must be ready to discuss the detailed legal text of a treaty in all areas.”