Michael Gove has defended an agreement secured yesterday on the Northern Ireland Protocol, insisting that any Brexit trade deal will not result in a border in the Irish sea.
The Cabinet Office minister yesterday struck an “agreement in principle” with his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic on post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish border.
The UK agreed to withdraw the most controversial parts of the Internal Market Bill that could have spelt a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Around 90 per cent of goods crossing the Irish Sea will not be subject to EU tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but some products such as animals and meat will be subject to charges if they are deemed to be “at risk” of being sold in Ireland — which is part of the EU.
Gove told Sky News this morning: “People wanted to make sure that, first of all, there was no border infrastructure on the Northern Ireland border, but also that Northern Ireland can be a secure part of the United Kingdom.
“We’ve agreed that. As a result, some of the measures we were putting forward, which some in Europe had criticised, we no longer need to introduce and that means that there is a smoother glide path towards a possible deal.”
Gove added that a failure to reach an agreement at the joint committee yesterday would have led to tariffs on goods being shipped to Northern Ireland and possible “restrictions” on supermarket food.
“I don’t think there is a border in the Irish Sea,” he added.
Plans to rip up parts of the Internal Market Bill had seen the EU threaten legal action against the UK, following a bitter row that drew in major figures from around the globe.
Brussels had claimed the parts of the bill relating to Northern Ireland would have jeopardised the Belfast Good Friday Agreement — widely seen as marking the end of the Troubles in Ireland.
US President-elect Joe Biden last month ruled out any future trade accord between America and the UK if Westminster failed to respect the peace treaty.
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Biden tweeted.
“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
It comes as crunch Brexit talks continue into the eleventh hour, with the Prime Minister due to fly to Brussels this evening after discussions between the UK and EU’s chief negotiators failed to reach an agreement.
Boris Johnson will meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in a last-minute attempt to thrash out the “remaining significant differences” holding up an agreement.
The PM yesterday said the conclusion of a Brexit trade deal is “looking very, very difficult at the moment” as the major sticking points of fisheries, so-called “level playing field” arrangements and state aid remain.
Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Gove said there “can be scope for compromise” on fishing, as he ruled out adopting the level-playing field once again.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said a potential trade deal might see the UK compromise on the “way in which European boats can continue to access UK waters”.
“But what is not up for compromise is the principle that the UK is an independent coastal state and it will be a matter of negotiation for the UK and EU, with the UK in control of our waters,” he added.