Michael Gove has claimed the door is still “ajar” for Brexit trade talks to continue, as Sir Keir Starmer urged ministers to show flexibility in the remaining weeks of the transition period to secure a deal in the “national interest”.
With business leaders growing increasingly anxious about the prospect of leaving the bloc without a trading agreement – coupled with the economic impact of Covid-19 – the British Chamber of Commerce also urged the EU and UK teams “to get back into the room around the table and secure an outcome”.
It comes after Boris Johnson accused European leaders of having “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” on Friday following an inconclusive EU summit and told the country to “get ready” for leaving the bloc on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in January.
Although the prime minister did not explicitly say he was ending the negotiations, his official spokesperson later told reporters: “The trade talks are over. The EU has effectively halted them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position.”
No 10 also insisted that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, should “only come to London next week if you are prepared to discuss all issues” and that the UK should not be “required to make all the moves”, adding: “If not, there is no point in coming.”
But asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if the door is still open to talks, Mr Gove replied: “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”.
He added that “we are ready if required” to leave without a trade deal, which he admitted would not “be a picnic”.
Speaking on Sunday, Sir Keir, the Labour leader insisted negations are “all about compromise” and urged Mr Johnson to show “flexibility” with Brussels in order to reach an agreement before the expiration of the transition period in December.
He added: “If there isn’t flexibility there won’t be an agreement. What I am saying is get back round the table, these issues can be resolved, a deal is in the national interest. The prime minister said he had an oven-ready deal, get on and deliver it.”
In a separate interview Mr Gove accused the EU of not being “serious” about making the compromises needed to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge programme the chances of an agreement was now “less” than has previous 66 per cent prediction.
“It’s less,” he said. “I can’t be precise but one of the necessary reasons why it’s less is the position that’s been taken in the last couple of weeks by European Union leaders”.
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.”
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.