Brexit: 'Sweet reason' will see trade deal agreed says Michael Gove as Boris Johnson heads to Brussels

Boris Johnson will head to Brussels this afternoon for talks with EU chief Usula von der Leyen. Credit: PA

"Sweet reason" will see the UK and EU agree a post-Brexit trade deal, senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said, ahead of the prime minister's crunch meeting in Brussels with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Mr Gove, the lead minister on Brexit preparedness, appeared optimistic when speaking to ITV News, saying he hopes "progress can be made" this evening when Boris Johnson and Ms von der Leyen discuss the potential for salvaging a trade deal.

But he suggested a lack of progress could see the prime minister walk away from talks without an agreement.

"We want to get an agreement, as I stress, it's not at any price, and I hope that we will see progress tonight and in the next couple of days, but again, I don't want myself to be the person who decides who's going to call time on this," Mr Gove said.

At PMQs, the prime minister provided a glimmer of hope that he and Ms von der Leyen could find some consensus when they meet on Wednesday evening for a dinner aimed at breaking the deadlock.

Mr Johnson said: "The UK will benefit from a very strong trading relationship with our friends and partners across the channel whatever the circumstances, whatever the terms we reach tonight."

His spokesman said "political" progress must be made at the dinner in order for their appointed negotiators - Lord Frost for the UK and Michel Barnier for the EU - to resume talks.

The two negotiators and a "handful of other officials from both sides" will join Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen at the dinner, at which the "main issues" of fisheries, level playing field and governance will be discusses.

The PM's press secretary Allegra Stratton said Mr Johnson "feels that there is a good deal to be done but he and von der Leyen both believe that there needs to be some political momentum now".

"That will have to be a decision ultimately for the prime minister and the Cabinet if we can't get the progress that we all want to make."

Mr Gove, who has just finalised a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement, said he "hopes" the move to drop controversial plans that would have allowed ministers to break international law, "helps contribute to making sure that we get a broader agreement".

"But that broader agreement has a number of issues that are still challenging and where we need to make progress. I hope we will," he added.

Brexit trade talks - the sticking points at a glance:- Fishing rights: The UK wants total control over its own fishing waters after the Brexit transition period ends, with a 12 mile exclusion zone around the British Isles banning all foreign vessels. The EU wants the UK to stick to the Common Fisheries Policy, an EU agreement which gives member nations the rights to fish in European waters - more here.- Level Playing Field: This is a concept all EU nations agree to, which ensures member nations cannot undercut others by setting their own rules on issues such as the environment, taxation and state aid. The EU says a zero-tariff trade deal is dependent on the UK agreeing to a level playing field. The UK disagrees, saying a fundamental aspect of Brexit is that the UK will be able to set its own rules.- Governance of a deal: It's likely that any trade deal will eventually result in disputes. The EU wants the European Court of Justice to be the final authority in ruling over disputes. The UK says the ECJ should have no role and final decisions should be made by a bespoke arbiter.

On Wednesday, Cabinet Office minister Gove and his counterpart on the UK-EU joint committee, Maroš Šefčovič, reached an agreement on border checks and trading rules for Northern Ireland.

When asked about comments made by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier that no deal is more likely than a deal, Mr Gove said he does not agree.

"Not for the first time Michel Barnier and I don't quite agree 100%. I think it's important that we do everything we can to get a deal over the line if we can, but of course it's important to recognise that we need to be prepared for every eventuality," he said.

Both sides have set the stage for a potentially make-or-break meal in the EU Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters.

Mr Johnson will depart for the Belgian capital after taking part in Prime Minister’s Questions.

Ms von der Leyen said “I look forward” to welcoming Mr Johnson, tweeting: “We will continue our discussion on the Partnership Agreement.”

No 10 hopes the dinner could pave the way for talks between negotiators Mr Barnier and his Downing Street counterpart Lord Frost to resume, but there were warnings that their political masters must find the will to break the deadlock.

A UK Government source said: “It’s clear that some political impetus will be required for the talks to make any more progress.

“If we can make progress at a political level it may allow Lord Frost and his team to resume negotiations over the coming days.”

Leaders of the EU’s 27 member states are due to gather in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit, potentially giving further political impetus for a deal.

Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic said in a statement that “an agreement in principle” had been reached on all issues and that the government would withdraw the controversial clauses of the Bill.

The agreement covers issues including border checks on animal and plant products, the supply of medicines and deliveries of chilled meats and other food products to supermarkets.

Mr Šefčovič said he hoped the agreement would provide “positive momentum” for the trade talks, although he acknowledged the two sides were still “very far apart”.