Brexit trade talks can resume if EU changes tack, says British minister

Mr Gove has previously said that while the British government wanted an agreement with Brussels, it was not going be "held hostage".
Mr Gove has previously said that while the British government wanted an agreement with Brussels, it was not going be "held hostage".PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • The door is still ajar for Britain and the European Union to strike a post-Brexit trade deal but the bloc needs to change its approach and show it is serious before talks can resume this week, senior British minister Michael Gove said.

The bloc had squandered some of the progress made in negotiations because it had not been willing to intensify talks or produce detailed legal texts, Mr Gove said.

"We hope that the EU will change their position; we're certainly not saying if they do change their position that we can't talk to them," he told the BBC yesterday.

The latest talks broke down last Thursday when the EU said Britain needed to give ground. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hit back the next day, telling Brussels there was no point in continuing the negotiations unless the EU fundamentally changed course, and telling businesses to prepare for no deal. European leaders, however, have tasked negotiator Michel Barnier to continue talks.

French President Emmanuel Macron said there were no divisions in the bloc. "We are ready for a deal, but not at any price," he said last Friday. Issues still to be resolved include fair competition rules, dispute resolution and fisheries.

Asked by Sky News if Mr Barnier should come to London this week, as previously planned, Mr Gove said the "ball was in his court".

"We made clear we needed to see a change in approach from the European Union," he said, adding that Mr Barnier would be speaking to his British counterpart David Frost in the coming days.

"Let's see if the European Union appreciate the importance of reaching a deal and the importance of moving ground."

A "no deal" finale to Britain's five-year Brexit crisis would disrupt the supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

"It is not my preferred destination," Mr Gove said in an opinion piece in Britain's The Sunday Times. "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. And leaving on Australian terms is an outcome for which we are increasingly well prepared."

Mr Johnson had said on Friday that Britain should get ready for a deal with the EU similar to the one Australia has, "based on simple principles of global free trade".

Mr Johnson's critics said that an Australian deal is simply code for no deal at all with Britain's largest export market.

More than 70 British business groups representing over seven million workers yesterday urged politicians to get back to the negotiating table this week and strike a Brexit deal.

The groups ranged from the Confederation of British Industry, TheCityUK and techUK to the National Farmers' Union, British Retail Consortium and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

"With compromise and tenacity, a deal can be done. Businesses call on leaders on both sides to find a route through," they said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2020, with the headline 'Brexit trade talks can resume if EU changes tack, says British minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe