Is the UK forcing the EU into a Brexit deal or are trade talks really over?

  • Video report by ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston


Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU have "in effect" ended and it would be "meaningless" for them to resume, Michael Gove has said.

Mr Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal planning, told MPs there is "no point" in proceeding with trade talks unless the EU "fundamentally" changes its position.

The unofficial deadline for a deal - October 15 - passed on Thursday last week when the EU Council met, agreeing the UK would need to change its negotiating position for talks to continue.

But as Mr Gove updated the Commons on plans to step up no-deal preparations, the EU's chief negotiator tweeted to say he was prepared to "intensify talks in London this week, on all subjects, and based on legal texts".

"We now wait for the UK's reaction," he added.

Mr Gove welcomed Mr Barnier's "constructive move" but it was not clear whether the EU was prepared to make concessions on areas of contention such as state aid and fisheries.

"There has been a constructive move on the part of the European Union," he said, "and I welcome that, and obviously we need to make sure that we work on the basis of the proposed intensification that they propose.



"And I prefer to look forward in optimism rather than necessarily to look back in anger."

The latest development means it is unclear whether trade talks will restart.

Following a discussion between Mr Barnier and the UK's chief negotiator Lord David Frost, a Number 10 spokesman said the UK has "noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation".

The spokesman added: "However, the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU.

"This means an EU approach consistent with trying to find an agreement between sovereign equals and with acceptance that movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the UK. 

"The two teams agreed to remain in close touch.”

Mr Gove said the UK's door remained "ajar" for talks to resume - only if the EU would "change its approach".

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston says the "real deadline" for trade talks is November 15, "because any later and ratification becomes impossible".

He says the EU still expects and hopes a deal will be reached.

But Mr Gove says the UK's priority is now ensuring "every part of the UK is ready for the end of the transition period".

The government has launched a campaign telling businesses to get ready for new customs and tax rules, warning "time is running out" for preparations to be made.

"We're getting ready to do now what the British people asked of us - to forge our own path and not to acquiesce to anyone else's agenda," Mr Gove said.

"And on the negotiations, our door is not closed. It remains ajar and I very much hope the EU will fundamentally change its position but come what may, on December 31, we will take back control."

The government has insisted it wants a trade deal with the EU but says it is prepared to trade with the EU on an Australia-style agreement, which effectively means having no deal.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said "the door is still ajar for negotiations" to restart "but at the moment, as a result of their inflexibility, all our focus is on ensuring the country is ready to leave at the end of the transition period".

He added: "We've said at the moment there isn't anything further to negotiate because the EU needs to show more flexibility.

"If they will, then of course we will return to the negotiating table."

The transition period ends on December 31 but there are still big disagreements between the UK and EU on issues such as fisheries and state aid.

Cabinet Office Minister Gove said negotiations can resume if the EU changes tact, despite Downing Street previously declaring discussions as “over”.

Businesses, increasingly concerned about the high tariffs of a no-deal exit, called on both sides to find a compromise for a deal.

Confederation of British Industry deputy director general Josh Hardie warned of a “hat-trick of unprecedented challenges” from the first wave of coronavirus, its resurgence and “uncertainty over the UK’s trading relationship with the EU”.


The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week accused European leaders of having “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” and told the country to “get ready” for leaving without a trade deal.

And Lord Frost told Mr Barnier not to travel for planned talks, with the UK calling for a fundamental change in direction of the bloc’s approach.

But they are expected to discuss the structure of future talks over video conferencing.

Mr Gove said on Sunday “we are ready if required” to leave without a trade deal, but left room for talks to restart during an appearance on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Asked if the door is still open to talks, he said: “It is ajar; we hope the EU will change their position, we’re certainly not saying that if they do change their position we can’t talk to them.”