Brexit: Michael Gove puts chances of trade deal with EU at 'less than 50%'

·3-min read

The chances of the UK and EU agreeing a Brexit trade deal are less than 50%, a senior minister has told MPs.

"I think that regrettably the chances are more likely that we won't secure an agreement," Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee.

Asked about the probability of a Brexit agreement before the end of the transition period this month, he said "less than 50%".

Britain left the EU at the end of January and entered into an 11-month transition period, following EU rules and regulations whilst trying to negotiate a free trade deal by the end of this year.

The two teams have been attempting to thrash out an agreement ahead of that deadline, although negotiations have continued to remain stuck on a number of issues.

These include fishing rights and the so-called "level playing field" - measures to prevent what is seen as unfair competition through the lowering of standards or the use of state subsidies.

Mr Gove told the committee that while recent negotiations had made progress, "significant" differences remained between the two sides.

"The process of negotiation has managed to narrow down areas of difference," he said.

"It is certainly the case that there are fewer areas of difference now than there were in October or indeed July.

"The areas of difference are still significant and they do go to the very heart of the mandate which the country gave the government in 2016."

Despite the two sides agreeing to continue discussions at the weekend, Boris Johnson has described no-deal as the "most likely" scenario.

The prime minister has insisted that Britain can thrive in such a scenario.

But opponents say having to trade on World Trade Organisation terms from 1 January would cause problems for business and push up prices for consumers.

Speaking in the Commons earlier, Mr Gove said "intensive talks" were taking place "day and night" in order to try and reach a deal.

"We're going the extra mile in continuing the negotiations to see whether or not an agreement can be reached and we will continue to keep parliament informed on our progress," he said.

He was speaking in the Commons on the day MPs will be sent home for Christmas.

The development suggests Downing Street is not confident of an imminent breakthrough in talks with the EU, but Number 10 has said MPs could be recalled "as early as next week" if a deal is agreed.

Delivering an update on parliamentary business after Mr Gove, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "Subject to the House's decision later, we will rise for the Christmas recess at the close of business today but MPs will recognise that talks with the European Union continue.

"Should a deal be secured, it is the government's intention to request a recall in order that parliament may pass the necessary legislation."

Downing Street has said it does not believe it would be necessary for MPs to sit on Christmas Day.

"Obviously we wouldn't be looking for the House to sit on Christmas Day and the bank holidays around it. We would obviously try to avoid those days," Boris Johnson's spokesman said.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said on Thursday there had been "good progress" in the discussions "but last stumbling blocks remain".

He briefed European parliament leaders about the state of the negotiations, which he said were in the "final stretch".

"We will only sign a deal protecting EU interests and principles," he said.

Two EU diplomats have told Reuters that they did not expect a deal to come together by Friday.

It comes after the AFP news agency reported Mr Barnier as saying an agreement was possible by Friday.