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Gove hopes of progress in Brexit talks but rules out transition extension

Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

By Richard Wheeler, George Ryan and Sophie Morris, PA Political Staff

The EU’s chief negotiator is “inclined to move” on key areas in Brexit talks, Michael Gove has claimed.

The Cabinet Office minister told MPs Michel Barnier has indicated progress can be made on fisheries and state aid, among other issues.

But some EU member states have been a “little more reluctant”, Mr Gove added.

The minister also insisted Britain will “under no circumstances” accept an extension to the Brexit transition and played down reports of a rift between himself and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Speaking in the Commons, Tory MP Robert Courts (Witney) asked Mr Gove what progress has been made in the talks.

Mr Gove replied: “Well, progress has been made.

“And Michel Barnier, on a number of issues, on fisheries and on state aid, has indicated that he is inclined to move.

“Some EU member states have been a little more reluctant.

“I think it would be in everyone’s interests, EU member states, the Commission, and of course the UK Government, if Michel Barnier were able to use the flexibility that he has deployed in the past in order to secure an arrangement that would work in everyone’s interests.”

Tory MP Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) earlier urged the Government not to “sacrifice access to our waters for any trade deal with the European Union”.

Mr Gove replied: “Our excellent chief negotiator David Frost has made it clear to Michel Barnier that we will be an independent coastal state… we will control who has access to our waters and on what terms and access to our waters will be subject to annual negotiations.”

Opening the Cabinet Office questions session, Mr Gove also made clear the Government’s refusal to extend the transition period.

He explained: “The transition period ends on December 31 2020.

“Under no circumstances will the Government accept an extension.

“Indeed, we have a domestic law obligation not to accept.

“Extending simply delays the moment at which we achieve what we want and what the country voted for, our economic and political independence.”

Hilary Benn, Labour chairman of the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee, highlighted growing warnings from business about the prospect of a no-deal scenario.

He said: “Now we all want a deal, but with British businesses already reeling from coronavirus, what does Mr Gove propose to say to those businesses come January if the Government’s gamble doesn’t pay off?”

Mr Gove replied: “Well the Government isn’t gambling, the Government is holding the European Union to account for its commitment to secure a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal and to use its best endeavours.

“And I have confidence that the European Union will do that.”

Mr Gove also confirmed there are no plans to change the size of the Brexit negotiating team, joking: “As Eric Morecambe said of Ernie Wise, it is small and perfectly formed.”

Labour’s Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) said he was “very worried” about Mr Gove, adding: “Isn’t it a fact that there’s a rift between him and the Prime Minister?

“The Prime Minister is not good on detail, there is a rift between him and the Prime Minister, does he need more help to overcome that?”

Mr Gove said he was grateful for Mr Sheerman’s offer to “step in as a marriage counsellor”, adding: “Notwithstanding my earlier reference to Morecambe and Wise, the Prime Minister and I, when it comes to everything, are like the Two Ronnies.

“And I have to say it’s goodnight from him and it’s goodnight from me.”

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