Michael Gove – 2020 Statement on the Relationship with the European Union

Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the House of Commons on 27 February 2020.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s approach to our future relationship with the European Union.

Now that Britain has left the EU, we are entering a new chapter in the history of these islands. This Government have honoured the clearly expressed wish of the British people. Their instruction to us, their servants, to secure our departure from the EU has been followed. The votes of 17.4 million people—more than have ever voted for any democratic proposition in our history—were implemented on 31 January and we are now on a new journey. As a sovereign, self-governing, independent nation, we will have the freedom to frame our own laws, control our own borders, lower all our taxes, set our own tariffs, determine our own trade relationships, and ensure that we follow the people’s priorities on security, the economy, and democratic accountability. Over the next nine months, we will negotiate a new relationship with our friends and partners in the EU based on free trade and friendly co-operation. We have today published the approach for these negotiations, and copies of the document, “The Future Relationship with the EU”, were made available to Members in the Vote Office from 9.30 am.

Talks with the EU on our future relationship begin next week. It is our aim to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement as well as agreement on questions such as fisheries, internal security and aviation. We are confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes that work for both the UK and the EU, but this House, our European partners, and, above all, the British people should be in no doubt: at the end of the transition period on 31 December, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence. We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty.

The Government’s vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU was outlined with crystal clarity by the Prime Minister during the general election campaign, and the election result comprehensively confirmed public support for our direction of travel. In his speech in the Painted Hall in Greenwich on 3 February, the Prime Minister laid out in detail how we will reach our destination. The first principle of our approach is that we wish to secure a relationship based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals. We respect the EU’s sovereignty, autonomy and distinctive legal order, and we expect it to respect ours. We will not accept or agree to any obligations where our laws are aligned with the EU or the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice. Instead, each party will respect the other’s independence and the right to manage its own borders, immigration policy and taxes.

The second and allied principle of our approach is that we will seek to emulate and build on the types of relationship that the EU already has with other independent sovereign states. We will use precedents already well established and well understood to ensure that both sides’ sovereignty is respected. By using already existing ​precedents, we should be able to expedite agreement. We will seek functional arrangements that the EU will recognise from its many other relationships. Our proposal draws on existing EU agreements such as the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada, the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement and the EU-South Korea free trade agreement. That approach should enable us to move swiftly towards the goal envisaged in the political declaration agreed last October, in which both sides set the aim of concluding a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement.

As well as concluding a full FTA, we will require a wholly separate agreement on fisheries. We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state, and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets. Our fishing waters are our sovereign resource, and we will determine other countries’ access to our resources on our terms. We also hope to conclude an agreement on law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, so that we can work with the EU to protect their citizens and ours from shared threats, but we will not allow our own legal order to be compromised. By taking back full control of our borders, we can implement measures to make the British people even safer, and we can tackle terrorism and organised crime even more effectively. We also wish to conclude a number of technical agreements covering aviation and civil nuclear co-operation, which will help to ensure continuity for the UK on its new footing as an independent sovereign nation.

Securing agreement on all those questions should not, in principle, be difficult. We are, after all, only seeking relationships with the EU that it has with other nations—relationships that respect the interests and the sovereignty of both partners. It is in that light that we should view discussions about what has been termed the “level playing field”. It has been argued that EU demands in this area will make full agreement difficult, yet there is no intrinsic reason why requirements that both parties uphold desirable standards should prejudice any deal.

The United Kingdom has a proud record when it comes to environmental enhancement, workers’ rights and social protection. In a number of key areas, we either exceed EU standards or have led the way to improve standards. On workers’ rights, for example, the UK offers a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert it to parental leave, so that both parents can share care. The EU minimum is just 14 weeks. On environmental standards, we were the first country in the world to introduce legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets through the Climate Change Act 2008. We were also the first major global economy to set a legally binding target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 2050.

We will not dilute any existing protections. Indeed, as the Environment Bill debated yesterday demonstrates, we wish to go further and faster than the EU in improving the natural environment. We do not need the EU’s permission to be a liberal nation leading the world in the fight against climate change and for social progress. That is why the UK Government seek an FTA with robust protections for the environment and labour standards, but we do not see why the test of suitability in those areas should be adherence to EU law and submission to EU models of governance. The EU does ​not apply those principles to free trade agreements with other sovereign nations, and they should not apply to a sovereign United Kingdom.

Some argue that we must accept EU procedures as the benchmark because of the scale of UK trade with the EU, but the volume of UK trade with the EU is no greater than the volume of US trade with the EU, and the EU was more than willing to offer zero-tariff access to the US without the application of EU procedures to US standard setting. The EU has also argued that the UK is a unique case, owing to its geographical location, but proximity is not a determining factor in any other FTA between neighbouring states with large economies. It is not a reason for us to accept EU rules and regulations. We need only look at the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement for an example of a trade agreement that does not require regulatory alignment to one side’s rules or demand a role for one side’s court. Geography is no reason to undermine democracy.

To be clear, we will not be seeking to align dynamically with EU rules on EU terms governed by EU laws and EU institutions. The British people voted to take back control, to bring power home and to have the rules governing this country made by those who are directly accountable to the people of this country, and that is what we are delivering.

The negotiations are due to begin next week, led by the Prime Minister’s sherpa, David Frost, and I would like to end by looking ahead optimistically to the coming months. There is ample time during the transition period to strike the right deal for the UK. We hope to reach a broad agreement ahead of the EU Council’s high-level summit in June, whereupon we will take stock.

We know that our proposals are measured and our approach is fair. We know what we want to achieve. We are ready to go, and this Government are committed to establishing a future relationship in ways that benefit the whole UK and strengthen the Union. We are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to deliver a future relationship with the EU that works for the whole UK, and I take this opportunity to reassure colleagues that our negotiation that will be undertaken without prejudice and with full respect to the Northern Ireland protocol.

This Government will act in these negotiations on behalf of all of the territories for whose international relations the UK is responsible. In negotiating the future relationship between these territories and the EU, the UK Government will seek outcomes that support the territories’ security and economic interests, and reflect their unique characteristics. As the Prime Minister committed to do on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, we will keep Parliament fully informed about the negotiations, and colleagues will be able to scrutinise our progress.

This Government are delivering on our manifesto commitments with energy and determination. This Government got Brexit done, and we will use our recovered sovereignty to be a force for good in the world and a fairer nation at home. We want and we will always seek the best possible relationship with our friends and allies in Europe, but we will always put the welfare of the British people first. That means ensuring the British people exercise the democratic control over our destiny ​for which they voted so decisively. That compact with the people is the most important deal of all, and in that spirit, I commend this statement to the House.