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Gove: EU must recognise UK as sovereign equal for Brexit talks to be a success

Stefan Rousseau

By Elizabeth Arnold, Lewis McKenzie and Richard Wheeler, PA Political Staff

Michael Gove has claimed the success of the fourth round of Brexit trade talks depends on the EU recognising the UK is a “sovereign equal.”

The Cabinet Office minister said the UK Government remains committed to securing a deal with a free trade agreement “at its core” and it looks forward to talks resuming in June.

But he warned it remains difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement while the “EU maintains such an ideological approach”, something Brussels believes Westminster is also pursuing.

The Brexit transition period is due to conclude at the end of December 2020.

Responding to an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Gove told MPs: “We believe that agreement is possible if flexibility is shown and the agreements that we seek are of course built on the precedents of the agreements that the EU has reached with other sovereign nations.”

He added negotiators from the UK and EU held “full and constructive” discussions last week via video conference, covering trade in goods and services, fisheries, law enforcement and criminal justice and other issues, with both sides discussing full legal texts.

He explained: “The discussion underlined that a standard comprehensive free trade agreement alongside other key agreements on issues such as law enforcement, civil nuclear and aviation all in line with the political declaration could be agreed without major difficulties in the time available.”

“There remain however some areas where we have significant difference of principle, notably on fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field.”

“The EU essentially wants us to obey the rules of their club even though we’re no longer members and they want the same access to our fishing grounds as they currently enjoy, while restricting our access to their markets.”

Mr Gove said the UK has published the draft legal texts shared with the European Commission in a bid to facilitate discussions, adding: “The Government remains committed to a deal with a free trade agreement at its core and we look forward to the fourth round of negotiations beginning on 1 June, but success depends on the EU recognising that the UK is a sovereign equal.”

For Labour, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “Peace in Northern Ireland was hard-won, we must not jeopardise it.”

“In January, the Prime Minister guaranteed unfettered access for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.”

“Last week it was revealed that the Government would implement checks on some products crossing the Irish Sea and that there would be new infrastructure at ports coming from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.”
“So can [Mr Gove] confirm whether these additional checks are being planned for when the road map for implementing the protocol will be published?”

Mr Gove responded: “Peace in Northern Ireland, she’s absolutely right, is critical and we will shortly be publishing a framework document on how we intend to implement the protocol in order to ensure that we have unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain and we preserve the gains from the peace process.”

SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Pete Wishart said: “This Government is doing nothing than playing political games with the futures of millions of people by pursuing this anti-EU agenda at all costs.”

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers said the customs compliance obligations under the protocol can be implemented without new physical inspections or infrastructure at Northern Ireland ports.

She added: “In that case will he intervene with HMRC to stop them making preparations for new physical inspections and infrastructure at Northern Ireland ports?”

Mr Gove replied: “[Ms Villiers] makes a very important point.”

“We are one customs territory.”

“The protocol makes that clear, and we’ll shortly be publishing further details on how we intend to ensure Northern Ireland benefits from that.”

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