Michael Gove heads to Brussels in last-gasp attempt to get a Brexit trade deal with the EU amid fears of the impact of coronavirus on the economy

  • If latest round of discussions go well the process of finalising a deal may begin
  • EU leaders are accusing London of lacking ‘credible’ ideas to break the deadlock
  • Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are preparing to finalise details by the end of week

Michael Gove heads to Brussels today amid greater urgency for a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU amid fears over the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

The Cabinet Office Minister will hold talks with the European Commission ahead of the latest round of negotiations which is due to start tomorrow.

Reports yesterday suggested that both the UK and Brussels are prepared to give ground to avoid the double negative economic impact of coronavirus and No Deal at the end of the year.

Lord Frost, the UK’s negotiator, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, are said to be preparing to finalise details by the end of this week. 

But UK sources said this week’s talks had been in the diary for some time and no immediate breakthrough was expected.

Mr Gove will meet European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic this afternoon to discuss the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement after their last talks ended in acrimony.      

Sticky wicket? Reports yesterday suggested that both Mr Johnson’s (pictured today in Uxbridge) Government and Brussels are giving ground to avoid the double negative economic impact of coronavirus and No Deal at the end of the year

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will go to Brussels today for more discussions with the European Commission to discuss the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement after their last talks ended in acrimony

Should talks go well, they hope to enter ‘the tunnel’, in which final details of the deal will be hammered out in total secrecy over two weeks. 

This would mean that a final agreement would be in place just after the next EU summit in Brussels in mid-October.

However, doubts still linger in Brussels, with EU leaders and diplomats accusing London of lacking ‘credible’ ideas to break the deadlock.

Boris Johnson’s Government is attempting to pass the UK Internal Markets Bill, which would break international law by over-riding part of the WA, which he signed last year.

Earlier this month, Mr Sefcovic issued the UK with an ultimatum to drop the controversial provisions in the legislation by the end of September or face legal action for breaking international law.

Boris Johnson’s Government pushed on with the IMB regardless and MPs are due to debate it on Tuesday.

Mr Sefcovic, who co-chairs the EU-UK joint committee with Mr Gove, is expected to address the public on Monday afternoon after the latest talks.

Citizens’ rights and the protocols on Northern Ireland and Gibraltar are among the topics of discussion.

Talks in Brussels will come after Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he is ‘not optimistic’ that a trade deal will be struck.

Mr Martin said there was still the ‘potential for a deal’, but warned that the controversial Bill enabling the UK to break international law had ‘eroded trust’.

He told the i newspaper in an interview to be broadcast at the Liberal Democrat conference on Monday that the legislation ‘damaged the credibility’ of agreements already entered into.

Asked if he believes a free trade deal is likely, he said: ‘I’m not that optimistic, if I’m honest. Just to let you know that the (Irish) government is preparing its budget in three weeks’ time on the basis that there will be a no-deal Brexit.

‘That’s the basis on which we’re preparing the budget and we’re warning and alerting businesses to that terrible reality.

‘I think progress has been slow in the talks so far, I think there is still potential for a deal, I believe a deal is the sane and sensible thing to do, and I think all of us as politicians have an obligation to those we represent – and in terms of Brexit that means the least damage possible to workers, to employers and to business and economy.’        

Brexit trade talks could enter their final stages this week after Lord Frost (pictured), the UK’s negotiator, and the EU made key concessions 

EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) and Lord Frost are said to be preparing to finalise details by the end of this week

Boris Johnson is believed to want a Brexit deal and is coming under pressure to secure one from Cabinet members. 

Mr Gove, who is in charge of No Deal planning, is said to be ‘terrified’ of the effects of a combination of a second coronavirus wave and a failure to reach a trade deal, the Sunday Times reported.

Both sides are said to have made concessions that give those involved hope a deal may be reached.

Brussels is said to have watered down its demands for checks on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In return, the UK would agree to adhere to some ‘baseline rules’ over the use of state aid to prop up British businesses.

This would mean that Mr Johnson would be able to say the UK was not fully aligned to EU rules as Brussels has been demanding. 

Both sides will then agree a dispute mechanism.

While No 10 officials have warned against the idea that a deal is done, members of Lord Frost’s team are reported to have privately said: ‘There will be a deal.’

In a statement, Lord Frost said: ‘An agreement is still very much possible, but equally very far from certain. 

‘The last two weeks of informal talks have been relatively positive, but there remains much to be done and time is short.’

Boris Johnson (pictured) is believed to want a Brexit deal and is coming under pressure to secure one from Cabinet members

He added that the UK had insisted from the start that it wants a standard free trade agreement like Canada’s, but said the EU’s position had ‘not been so straightforward’.

However, the signals from the EU were less positive yesterday, with the Irish premier Micheal Martin saying he was ‘not that optimistic’ about the prospect of a deal.

He told the i newspaper: ‘The Internal Market Bill has eroded trust, it has damaged the credibility of agreements that have been entered into, namely the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol.’

One senior EU diplomat added: ‘The UK is very much spinning that they want a tunnel to explore possible ideas and avenues to strike a deal. The problem is right now there are not any that are credible.

‘There is going to be a need of intensification of negotiations at some point. But we need to trust we won’t be betrayed by the other side.’

Another diplomat said: ‘On one hand, you could see all this positive talk coming from the British government as an indication that they are serious about getting a deal.

‘On the other hand, they could be just preparing the ground for some kind of blame game in the event we don’t find an agreement.’ 

It came as the head of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairburn, said there was ‘real concern’ about the chance of No Deal at the end of the transition period.

She said a CBI poll showed half of firms have gone backwards with their preparations as cash reserves and stockpiles have been run down.

Swiss reject plan to stop free movement 

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to end the free movement of EU citizens into the country.

Switzerland is not an EU member state, but accepts free movement in return for free trade and co-operation with Brussels in areas such as transport and education.

The Right-wing Swiss People’s Party put forward a referendum to end the long-standing deal with the EU and regain full control of the country’s immigration policy.

But initial poll findings after yesterday’s vote found the idea was rejected by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. 

The scale of the pro-EU feeling was surprising, as a similar initiative to introduce quotas on immigrants from the EU narrowly passed in a 2014 referendum. 

However, politicians failed to enact the measure, citing the damage it would cause to relations with the EU.

There are around 1.4million EU citizens among Switzerland’s population of 8.2million. 

Opponents of the referendum said it would deprive Swiss citizens of their right to live and work in Europe.

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