Michael Gove has categorically promised the UK will have a trade deal with the EU by the end of next year, despite deep reservations in Brussels about whether this is possible.
The senior minister became the first in Boris Johnson’s cabinet to repeat that pledge after the election, saying transitional arrangements would definitely stop at the end of December 2020.
He said discussions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU “will be concluded next year”.
Despite his confidence, EU leaders are considering a move to take the initiative and request an extension to the transition period, keeping the UK under Brussels regulations beyond 2020.
The move is being mooted by EU officials as a way out of the problem posed by the short time available to negotiate a new relationship and the prime minister’s insistence that he will not seek an extension beyond 11 months.
During the election campaign, Johnson and his ministers repeatedly insisted that there would be no extension to transitional arrangements, raising the prospect of an exit on World Trade Organization terms if no trade deal can be struck by then.
However, Gove, who has been tipped for a bigger trade talks role under Johnson, dismissed the idea that it will take longer, insisting that it was almost ready to go.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: “Quite a lot of the details that we need to negotiate is already laid out in the political declaration, so a lot of work has been done.
“And as a number of people have pointed out, there are areas where the European Union’s interests and the United Kingdom’s interests are already closely aligned, so I’m confident that we will be able not just to leave the EU on 31 January but also to conclude all the details of a new relationship in short order.”
Asked whether this would be yet another broken promise, like Johnson’s pledge to take the UK out of the EU “do or die”, Gove simply said: “Nope.”
Despite Gove’s confidence, a new report from the Institute for Government warned that Whitehall is not “match fit” for the next phase of Brexit negotiations.
Raoul Ruparel, a former adviser to Theresa May and David Davis, who was credited with coming up with the Northern Ireland solution which helped Boris Johnson seal a Brexit deal with the EU, said lessons need to be learned from the mistakes of May’s government.
“There is a huge amount of work to be done to flesh out the detail of what the UK wants from its future relationship with the EU, and Whitehall is not yet ready to negotiate such a complex and wide-ranging agreement, nor implement it,” he said.