Michael Gove has spent the morning updating MPs on the government’s official Brexit position. Following a series of speeches in recent weeks from senior members of the government, Gove confirmed in the chamber that the UK is seeking ‘regulatory’ freedom from the EU. He said that the UK should not be subject to EU rules under a free trade agreement – but added that he believed the UK government would go further than EU rules on the environment. In a bid to win over the EU to the benefits of agreeing a free trade deal on the UK’s terms, Gove said it would allow the EU to benefit from ‘the dynamism of the UK economy’.
His comments came as Downing Street published a written version of its negotiating mandate for EU talks – seeking ‘regulatory freedom’ from the EU. The document states that the UK will not accept any role for the European Court of Justice in dispute resolution mechanisms. It was also clear both from Gove’s comments and the document that, at present, there is a sense in government that talks could break down by the summer.
The government says it will quit the trade talks by June if significant progress has not been made and the EU remains unwilling to commit to a Canada-style free trade deal. At this point, Johnson and his team would move to focussing solely on no-deal trade preparations or – as some in Downing Street would call it – preparing for an Australia-style deal which relies heavily on WTO.
In the chamber today, Conservative MPs were supportive of the government’s plans. Tory MPs in large tried to use their questions to be helpful – highlighting the need not for a close relationship with the EU but for freedom and an ability for the UK to set its own roles. Not everyone was impressed. SDLP MP Claire Hanna asked Gove to clarify how he expected the Irish protocol to work given recent newspaper reports suggesting the government were trying to find a way around what had been agreed. Gove batted away the question but in the coming months specifics will be much harder to avoid.
Now listen to analysis from James Forsyth and Katy Balls on the Coffee House Shots podcast: