Michael Gove has said a post-Brexit free trade deal between the UK and EU is “entirely possible” before 31 December and is “better than 2/1” odds to happen.
Gove said today that the firm deadline would “concentrate minds” and would not be changed, despite the coronavirus crisis.
There has been sustained calls for the 31 December trade deadline to be extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
International Monetary Fund boss Kristalina Georgieva said the tight deadline created unnecessary uncertainty for the global economy, while a group of civil service grandees came out last week to say the timeline must be extended.
The second round of negotiations between the UK and the EU happened last week via video conference, with Downing Street unwilling to consider a change of timetable.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier expressed anger at his counterpart David Frost on Friday for setting a “very short calendar for negotiations and at the same time not [moving], not [progressing] on certain subjects”.
Downing Street, meanwhile, accused Barnier and Brussels of not treating the UK as “an independent state”.
The two sides will take stock of negotiations in June to see if there is a way forward, after another two week-long negotiating rounds.
Speaking today at a parliamentary committee hearing, Gove said a trade deal could be done, despite persistent intransigence from EU negotiators.
He said Barnier’s unwillingness to budge on fisheries policy had been one of the major areas of disagreement.
It is understood that the EU want to retain exactly the same fishing rights to UK waters as it had when the UK was a member state.
“When we leave, we’ll be an independent coastal state, like Norway or Iceland or the Faroes, therefore access to our waters should be negotiated on an annual basis like it is with those other countries,” Gove said.
“It is another example of the EU negotiators not treating the UK like they treat other independent states.
“We’re not going to change our position on this.”
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, on a conference call with Westminster journalists, echoed Gove’s position today.
“We set out our position on Friday, we’re ready to keep talking, but that doesn’t make us any more likely to agree to the EU’s proposal in the areas they are not taking into account the UK’s status as an independent state,” he said.
“There will clearly need to be political movement on the EU side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field to better reflect political realities on both sides.
“What the EU is seeking to do is seek positions from us that are not required in other free trade agreements with other sovereign countries around the world.”