Michael Gove has attacked the EU over its stance in the ongoing Brexit talks, saying it wants Britain to “obey the rules of their club even though we are no longer members”.
Gove was hauled into the House of Commons on Tuesday to answer an urgent question about the third round of negotiations on the UK and EU’s future relationship, which took place last week.
The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office minister told MPs it will be “difficult” to reach an agreement “while the EU maintains such an ideological approach”.
It comes after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, launched another blistering attack on Boris Johnson’s government on Friday, saying: “The UK will have to be more realistic… you cannot have the best of both worlds.”
Gove told the Commons the discussions were “constructive” and that consensus exists on issues such as a free trade agreement, law enforcement and aviation.
However, he added: “There remain some areas where we have significant difference of principle, notably on fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field [a term used by the EU as part of its calls for fair and competitive trade].
“The EU essentially wants us to obey the rules of their club – even though we are no longer members – and they want the same access to our fishing grounds as they currently enjoy, while restricting our access to their markets.
“It remains difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement while the EU maintains such an ideological approach.
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“But we believe an agreement is possible if flexibility is shown… but success depends on the EU recognising that the UK is a sovereign equal.”
The UK, after leaving the EU on 31 January, is currently in a transition period in which the two sides have until 31 December to agree their future relationship.
During the transition period, the UK effectively remains a member of the EU. The transition period can be extended for up to two years, but Downing Street must give notice of this by 30 June.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, there have been calls for Number 10 to extend the transition period, with leaders primarily focused on the pandemic. However, the government has insisted it will not be seeking an extension.
If a future relationship agreement is not reached with the EU, the UK will then trade with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms – the same as what a “no-deal” Brexit would have entailed.
One more round of talks is scheduled for the week beginning 1 June, before a high-level meeting later in June to review the progress made.