Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, in the House of Commons on 16 June 2020.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, via video conference. The purpose of this high-level meeting, as the political declaration puts it, was to take stock of progress on the negotiations and to agree actions to move forward. All parties agreed that now was the moment to accelerate the pace of these negotiations—in the Prime Minister’s words, to
“put a tiger in the tank”.
The three Presidents welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for greater pace, focus and flexibility in the negotiations, and the tempo of the talks process has now been escalated.
I am pleased to say that both sides pledged yesterday, in a joint statement that was made public immediately afterwards, that they would intensify the talks in July and, if possible, seek to find an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement. Our respective chief negotiators and their teams will therefore intensify talks from the end of this month, starting on 29 June. I also welcome the Commission President’s statement yesterday that the EU is available 24/7, and we will be too. Meetings will take place every week in July, with a keen focus on finding an early understanding on the principles that will underpin a broad agreement. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the faster we can do this, the better. We are looking to get things done in July. We do not want to see this process going on into the autumn and then the winter. We all need certainty, and that is what we are aiming to provide.
Yesterday’s high-level meeting followed the second meeting of the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee, which took place on Friday 12 June, again via video conference. I am grateful to the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič, for the very constructive way in which progress was made under his chairmanship. In that meeting, I set out our plans to implement the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and updated the EU on our ongoing work to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. This is a priority for the UK Government. I also sought assurance, for our part, that the EU intended to meet its obligations under the withdrawal agreement around the protection of the rights of our nationals currently living in the EU. We have concerns in this area, and we will continue to press the EU to ensure that our citizens’ rights are properly protected.
If we are to make the progress that we all want to see in our negotiations on the future relationship, we all need to be both clear-eyed and constructive. Our EU partners agreed yesterday that during the four full negotiating rounds completed to date, we have all gained greater clarity and understanding of our respective positions. Discussions have been productive and legal texts have been exchanged, even as both sides have had to deal with uniquely difficult challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But as my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General advised the House last week, following the fourth round of negotiations it is still the case that there has been insufficient movement on the most difficult areas where differences of principle remain. We are committed, in line with the political declaration, to securing a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU built on the precedents of the agreements that the EU has reached with other sovereign states such as Canada, Japan and South Korea—and we are ready to be flexible about how we secure an FTA that works for both sides. The UK, however, has been clear throughout that the new relationship we seek with the EU must fully reflect our regained sovereignty, independence and autonomy. We did not vote in June 2016 to leave the EU but still to be run by the EU. We cannot agree to a deal that gives the EU Court of Justice a role in our future relationship, we cannot accept restrictions on our legislative and economic freedom—unprecedented in any other free trade agreement—and we cannot agree to the EU’s demand that we stick to the status quo on its access to British fishing waters.
There must be movement, and the clock is ticking. The transition period ends on 31 December. That was a manifesto pledge on which the Government were elected, and it was the instruction from the electorate in the 2016 referendum: to leave the single market and the customs union and to grant the opportunities of full and economic and political independence. Four years on from the referendum result, no one can argue that this is a rushed or precipitate step. It is delivering at last on democracy. We will manage the adjustment required at the end of the transition period in a flexible and pragmatic way to minimise any challenges and to maximise all opportunities, but the call from Opposition politicians to extend the transition period is not in the national interest.
Staying under the EU’s control after this December would mean paying money into EU budgets that we could spend on our NHS, accepting new laws over which we would have no say—laws shaped in the interests of others—and being prevented from taking the actions that we need to supercharge our economic recovery. That would clearly not be in our national interest. There is no intrinsic reason why a deal cannot be concluded in good time. As Roberto Azevêdo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, confirmed at the weekend, a deal between the UK and the EU can be reached in a timely way if the political will is there.
The UK’s political will is there. Our position is reasonable, based on precedent, and we still have the time to bring a deal home. That is why the Prime Minister has led the drive to accelerate these talks, to reach agreement, and to ensure that next January, we leave the regulatory reach of the EU and embrace the new opportunities that our independence will bring. I commend the statement to the House.