Brexit: Boris Johnson sends Michael Gove to Brussels to resolve Northern Ireland border dispute

The Cabinet Office minister is in the EU capital ahead of a crucial week of trade talks

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 28 September 2020 17:07
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Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove

Michael Gove travelled to Brussels on Monday to kick off another week of Brexit trade talks in the EU capital.

The cabinet minister represented the UK government at so-called "joint committee" talks about the Northern Irish border – which is still a source of disagreement in negotiations.

Mr Gove  met with European Commission vice president Marcos Sefcovic, who has accused the UK government of moving towards an "extremely serious violation" of the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed earlier this year.

Ministers have admitted that their internal market bill is a breach of international law and overwrites part of the Brexit divorce deal.

But they say that without the legislation the agreement Boris Johnson signed up to earlier this year could result in checks and controls on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Despite this being clear from the text of the agreement at the time it was signed, the UK now says it would not be acceptable and wants the EU to agreed to waive some controls that would be imposed across the Irish Sea.

Also this week, Lord Frost, the UK's chief negotiator, will continue parallel talks to try and strike a separate free trade agreement, which needs to be in place by the end of the year to avoid a no-deal.

Subjects to be discussed include regulatory alignment, fisheries, and governance of any deal – key sticking points so far on which little progress has been made. Negotiators will also consider trade in services and law enforcement cooperation, as well as the possibility of civil nuclear cooperation.

Downing Street briefed Tory-supporting newspapers at the end of last week that a deal is in sight, but there is no concrete sign of this so far in Brussels.

The European Commission says Michel Barnier, its chief negotiator, is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but determined to reach a deal.

Speaking after his meeting about the Irish border, Mr Gove said: “Maros Sefcovic and I are committed to using every moment available - every second, every minute, every hour - in order to reach agreement, and I am confident that we will."

He added: "We had a constructive meeting. We both were clear with each other where we were still some distance apart, but we were both also clear that we want to bridge that gap, and I think that in future meetings that we have scheduled today that we should be able to bring both sides together in the interests of the European Union, the United Kingdom and the people of Northern Ireland."

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