Brexit: UK may accept tariffs on goods to strike trade deal with EU, Michael Gove says

Cabinet office minister drops 'no compromise' stance, saying: 'If that is the price that we have to pay, then there we go'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 05 May 2020 19:57 BST
UK may accept tariffs on goods to strike trade deal with EU Michael Gove says

The UK may accept the “price” of tariffs on goods to strike a trade deal with the EU, Michael Gove says – as he again insisted there would be no extension to the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December.

The charges would be “a missed opportunity”, the cabinet office minister said, but added: “If that is the price that we have to pay, then there we go.”

Giving up on the demand for a “zero-tariff, zero-quota” deal could be acceptable to secure the prize of breaking free of EU rules, he told a parliamentary inquiry.

The comments come after government sources insisted the EU would have to give way to rescue a deal, attacking Brussels for refusing to accept the UK’s “sovereignty”.

But Mr Gove acknowledged the UK might “end up like Canada with tariff on a possible number of goods” – billing the move as a compromise Brussels might accept.

The UK was “prepared to modify our ask”, to regain autonomy over “level playing field” regulations on workers and the environment. “It is one of the ways in which we would be prepared to show leg,” he said.

During the evidence given to the Lords EU committee, Mr Gove also:

* Insisted the EU would fail if it asked the UK for a transition extension, saying: “We think it would be in nobody’s interest. I can’t imagine anything other than no.”

* Admitted there will be border checks in the Irish Sea – after Boris Johnson repeatedly denied it – but refused to reveal details.

* Agreed the UK would be at risk of a Donald Trump trade war if the transition was extended, saying: “Precisely so, precisely right.”

* Insisted there would be no medicine shortages if there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020, arguing: “We have done the work already.”

* Hinted at “flexibility” that might extend the settled status scheme for EU citizens in the UK if necessary, because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Gove’s comments hinted at the UK’s approach at a high-level meeting in June – the last before the deadline for any request to extend the transition.

A carbon copy of the EU’s trade deal with Canada would involve accepting tariffs and quotas, including on agricultural goods.

However, it would still appear to leave the two sides far apart, with the EU demanding an agreement on fishing rights first, as well as the UK accepting level playing field commitments.

Earlier, Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister, struck a gloomy note, saying: “Time is short and there’s an awful lot to do.”

Mr Johnson sparked a huge row by refusing to accept Irish Sea checks, saying in December: “There will be no checks on goods from GB to Northern Ireland or Northern Ireland to GB.”

But Mr Gove acknowledged the need for controls – in both directions – while declining to set out exactly how they would work, even the clock ticking down to 31 December, when they will be needed.

“I don’t think you have answered any of my questions!” protested Lord Kerr, the peer who drafted the Article 50 process.

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