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  1. ITV Report

Gove attacks EU over refusal to engage on Brexit and insists PM is ready to negotiate

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports.

The government has rejected reports the UK is focused on a no-deal Brexit and instead insisted Boris Johnson wants to "negotiate a good deal with the European Union".

Following reports the EU had accepted Mr Johnson is aiming for no deal, Michael Gove attacked the EU, claiming it is the bloc that "seem to be refusing to negotiate with UK".

Mr Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, said he was "deeply saddened" by the EU stance after diplomats in Brussels warned that no-deal now appeared the UK's "central scenario".

Following a meeting of the Government's Exit Strategy Committee, he said that while the government wanted to negotiate in a "spirit of friendliness", the EU had to understand Britain was leaving on October 31 "deal or no deal".

His comments followed a warning from Downing Street, in which it said the EU must "change its stance" to secure a Brexit deal, adding a "rethink" is needed over the "current refusal" to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

The warning came after reports emerged about a briefing between Mr Johnson’s top Europe adviser David Frost - who had been sent to reiterate the UK would be leaving the EU in October - and senior EU figures.

Following that meeting the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian reported a diplomat said: "It was clear UK does not have another plan. No intention to negotiate, which would require a plan. A no-deal now appears to be the UK Government’s central scenario."

Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, disagreed with what the diplomat allegedly said.

"The prime minister's been clear, he wants to negotiate a good deal with the European Union," he said.

He added: "But at the moment it's the EU that seems to be saying they're not interested', they're simply saying, 'no, we don't want to talk'. Well I think that's wrong and sad, it's not in Europe's interest."

Despite Mr Gove claiming the government will put all its "energy into making sure that we can secure that good deal", the Irish premier said no deal Brexit looks increasingly inevitable.

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However, Leo Varadkar did say: "There are many ways by which a no-deal can be avoided. Either by the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, a further extension or revocation of Article 50.

"So, there are a number of ways that a no-deal can be avoided on the 31st of October. I am certainly not fatalistic about that."

An EU spokeswoman was asked during a press briefing about the reports, and while she declined to directly comment on the reports, she said the "Commission does remain available" for talks.

Annika Breidthardt told reporters: "The European Union position remains unchanged, we have agreed the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK government - the deal we have achieved is the best possible deal.

She added: "The Commission does remain available over the coming weeks, should the United Kingdom wish to hold talks and clarify its position in more detail, whether by phone or in person."

Since taking power, Mr Johnson has ordered planning for a no-deal Brexit to be ramped up – despite claiming the odds of it happening are a "million to one against".

  • Romilly Weeks explains the discussions happening inside - and outside - Downing Street

Part of that planning involves Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is currently on a tour of North America, with the aim of building relationships.

He said the UK is at an "important historic crossroads" and the country wants to take its friendship with Canada to the "next level" on trade and other matters.

After he reiterated the Government's desire to leave the EU on October 31 - deal or no deal - Mr Raab also told reporters in Toronto: "For the UK, Brexit is not just about risk management - although that's important, and I wouldn't want to be glib or not take that very seriously.

"But it's also, and I think our Prime Minister has been very clear about that, about grasping the enormous opportunities of our new found freedoms."

Amid the speculation PM Johnson met with Estonian PM Jüri Ratas, where journalists shouted questions from across the road about the possibility of no deal Brexit.

The reports of no deal came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would call for a vote of no confidence in the Government this autumn in an attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Corbyn said the party would do this “when we can win it”, but added it would be at an “appropriate very early time”.