Brexit: Anger as Michael Gove claims UK doesn’t ‘need’ trade deal with EU

Boris Johnson insisted no-deal risk was ‘absolutely zero’ – but his key ally now says it is ‘a matter of preference’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 04 February 2020 13:32
Michael Gove says UK doesn't really need trade deal with EU

Michael Gove has sparked anger after claiming the UK doesn’t “need” a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, insisting it is better to “stand up for Britain”.

The cabinet office minister put a no-deal crash-out – at the end of 2020 – back centre-stage, despite Boris Johnson insisting the risk was “absolutely zero” during the general election campaign.

Mr Gove also claimed the current level of trade with the US proved a formal agreement was not necessary, despite a deal with Washington being a supposed prize for leaving the EU.

Asked about prospects for a deal, a day after the UK clashed with Brussels over its red lines, he said: “When we talk about needing, everything is a matter of preference.

“It’s better to have a good trading relationship with the United States, better to have the best possible trading relationship with the EU.

“But, most of all, it is right to stand up for Britain and not to accept terms from other countries if those terms are not right for us.”

Those terms were “allowing European courts, European judges, European politicians dictating what happens here”, Mr Gove told Sky News.

The comments come after Mr Johnson sought to rebrand an effective no-deal Brexit in December as an agreement “like Australia’s” – even though Canberra has no trade agreement.

The claim, in his first big post-election speech, was widely seen as softening up the public for trading on vastly-inferior World Trade Organisation terms, with tariffs and other barriers.

Paul Blomfield, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, told The Independent: “The government has spent the last four years reassuring the country that, after Brexit, they would secure a “best in class” trade deal. Now we’ve left, they’re changing their tune.

“This is either reckless disregard of the needs of UK business, or a calculated exercise in expectation management, preparing for a deal which falls well short of the country’s needs. Either way its taking enormous risks with people’s jobs and livelihoods.”

Hilary Benn, the Brexit committee chairman, said: “Lots of businesses which sell goods and services to the EU will be very surprised by this. It is clearly in the UK’s interests to have a trade deal with the European Union.”

And Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson, said: “The failure to secure a trade deal with the EU risks both business and people’s livelihoods. It is tantamount to steering the country of a cliff.”

A Treasury analysis, in the last parliament, warned that Brexit would slash almost 10 per cent from GDP by 2030 – and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted a possible recession.

In the interview, Mr Gove insisted he remained confident of striking a deal, saying: “The closer the commercial relationship the better.”

But he said: “We voted to be independent,” adding: “We don’t have a trade deal with America at the moment, but we do a lot of trade with them.”

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