Michael Gove today told Michel Barnier ‘the ball is in your court’ if the European Union wants trade talks with the UK to resume as he said the bloc had given Britain ‘no choice’ but to step up its preparations for a no deal split.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office said Brussels had shown in recent weeks it was ‘not serious’ about striking a deal because it had failed to compromise on key issues.
He said he still hoped a deal could be done in the coming weeks but stressed that for the UK to consider going back to the negotiating table the EU will have to drastically overhaul its approach.
He borrowed a term from Star Trek as he said the EU was trying to ‘keep us in their tractor beam’ and suggested Brussels had broken its word by failing to agree to a Canada-style free trade agreement.
His intervention came after Boris Johnson warned businesses to prepare for leaving the bloc without a trade deal when the standstill post-Brexit transition period ends in December after EU leaders refused to bow to his negotiating deadline.
Michael Gove today said the UK had ‘no choice’ but to prepare for leaving the EU without a trade deal
Mr Gove said the ‘ball is in his court’ as he was asked whether formal trade talks with Michel Barnier could resume
Mr Johnson had set a European Council meeting last Thursday as the deadline for agreeing the broad outline of a trade agreement.
But the two sides remain deadlocked in a number of crunch areas, including on post-Brexit fishing rights with French President Emmanuel Macron adamant he will not drop his hardline stance on keeping current levels of access to British waters.
The summit saw EU leaders agree to talks continuing but they gave no ground and said it was for the UK to make the next move, prompting a furious response from Mr Johnson who said Britain would now step up its preparations for a no deal divorce.
The UK has made clear it is willing to restart trade discussions but only if the EU completely changes its negotiating stance, with the two sides now locked in a high stakes game of brinkmanship.
Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, had been due to come to London next week but those talks have now been cancelled.
Mr Gove told Sky News: ‘Well, the ball is in his court. We have made clear that we need to see a change in approach from the European Union.
‘I know that he will 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 moving ground.’
Mr Gove had previously estimated there was a 66 per cent chance of a trade deal being agreed with the EU.
Asked what his new estimation was, he replied: ‘Less. I think it is less but I can’t be precise. One of the reasons why it is less is the position that has been taken in the last couple of weeks by European Union leaders.
‘What we have seen and what our negotiators have found is the European Union side have not been willing to produce the detailed legal text, they have not been willing to intensify the talks in a way that would indicate that they were actually serious about reaching an agreement.
‘At the same time they have also insisted both that we accept a level of control over our autonomy that an independent country can’t really accept and at the same time they are saying they should continue to have exactly the same access to for example our fishing waters and our fishing stocks as before and so that seems to me to be the behaviour of an organisation and an institution that is not serious about making the compromises necessary to secure a deal. I still hope we will get a deal though.’
Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr Gove had said: ‘Unless the EU makes a fundamental change, we’ll leave on Australian-style terms trading on WTO rules.
‘It is not my preferred destination, and there will be turbulence en route.
‘I am not blasé about the challenges, but if the choice is between arrangements that tie our hands indefinitely, or where we can shape our own future, then that’s no choice at all.’
Australia has no comprehensive trade deal with the EU and it also does far less business with Brussels than the UK.
A no deal split would see the EU impose tariffs on UK goods, with business groups warning this would damage British firms at a time when they can least afford it because of the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Gove, who has long warned against a no deal split, said the UK will be ‘flexing every muscle to be match fit for January 1’ and that the Government will not be ‘squeezed or sandbagged into acquiescing to anyone else’s agenda’.
He suggested the EU had broken its word by failing to offer the UK a Canada-style agreement.
‘The terms on which Canada and the EU waive tariffs on each other’s goods is all we seek,’ he said.
Emmanuel Macron has stuck to his hardline stance on post-Brexit fishing rights – one of the crunch areas where talks remain deadlocked
‘That’s what the EU said it would offer us but at the eleventh hour it seems the bloc won’t take yes for an answer.’
He added: ‘The EU wants to keep us in their tractor beam. It’s independent life, Jim, but not as we know it.’
Mr Gove’s intervention comes after Government sources claimed the EU had treated trade talks more like ‘performance art’ than serious negotiations.
In a blistering attack, insiders accused EU negotiators led by Mr Barnier of using the meetings to ‘shore up their domestic position’ – with particular criticism levelled at French President Emmanuel Macron.
‘There are signs that EU leaders, worried about the prospect of populist politicians such as Marine Le Pen, have decided that they would put domestic politics ahead of agreeing a free-trade agreement with the UK,’ said one source close to the talks.
The Government is today launching a public information campaign to encourage businesses to prepare for Britain’s departure on January 1.
A TV advert with the slogan ‘Time is running out’ will air tonight on ITV.