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'British government operating on assumption of no deal Brexit' - Michael Gove

Gove said there is a “very real prospect” that an agreement would not be struck with Brussels.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT is  “operating on the assumption” that Britain will leave the EU without a deal on 31 October, Michael Gove has said.

The newly-appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, writing in The Sunday Times, said there is a “very real prospect” that an agreement would not be struck with Brussels before the Halloween deadline.

“The EU’s leaders have, so far, said they will not change their approach — it’s the unreformed withdrawal agreement, take it or leave it,” Gove said. 

We still hope they will change their minds, but we must operate on the assumption that they will not.

Gove added that the government will do “everything in our power” to strike a “good agreement” with the EU but ruled out putting former Prime Minister Theresa May’s thrice-rejected deal before Parliament.

“You can’t just reheat the dish that’s been sent back and expect that will make it more palatable,” he wrote.

Planning for no deal Brexit was now a “number one priority”, Gove said. 

“With a new prime minister, a new government, and a new clarity of mission, we will exit the EU on October 31. No ifs. No buts. No more delay. Brexit is happening,” Gove said.

Gove was appointed to his new role by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took up office last week

‘Massive economic opportunity’ 

Speaking yesterday, Johnson said Brexit was a “massive economic opportunity” but had been treated under his predecessor Theresa May as “an impending adverse weather event”.

In a speech in Manchester where he pledged new investment in Leave-voting areas, Johnson promised to step up negotiations on post-Brexit trade deals and set up free ports to boost the economy.

“When people voted to leave the European Union, they were not just voting against Brussels, they were voting against London too,” he said.

Johnson promised to give more powers to local communities, as well as boost broadband and transport infrastructure in a speech focused on domestic issues.

“Taking back control doesn’t just apply to Westminster regaining sovereignty from the EU, it means our cities and counties and towns becoming more self governing,” he said.

Leaving the EU is a massive economic opportunity to do things we’ve not been allowed to do for decades.

When asked about the prospect of Brexit negotiations, Johnson said he was willing to engage with EU partners but only if the backstop clause was removed from the current divorce agreement struck by May.

The backstop seeks to ensure a free-flowing post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in all eventualities.

“The approach of the UK government is not going to be disengaged or aloof or waiting for them to come to us, we are going to try to solve this problem,” he said.

“We can’t do it as long as that anti-democratic backstop, that backstop that seeks to divide our country, divide the UK, remains in place. We need to get it out and then we can make progress.”

‘Unhelpful’

Over the past few days, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have both given statements on the current Brexit state of play following the appointment of Johnson as the British Prime Minister.

Coveney said that Johnson’s comments on Brexit have been “unhelpful”.

“The statements of the British Prime Minister yesterday in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process,” Coveney told reporters on Friday.

“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations, and I think only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that.”

Meanwhile, Johnson has also tried to dampen speculation he could call an early election.

Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the EU by the latest deadline of 31 October – deal or no deal.

But he has focused on domestic priorities in his first few days in office, including a pledge yesterday to reverse drastic cuts to the police force made under May.

Commentators have speculated that he could be preparing to call a general election, hoping to regain the Conservative majority that May lost at the polls in 2017.

Johnson yesterday “absolutely” ruled out initiating such a poll before Britain leaves the bloc.

“The British people voted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017,” he said during a visit to the central English city of Birmingham.

“What they want us to do is deliver on their mandate, come out of the EU on October 31.

They don’t want another electoral event, they don’t want a referendum, they don’t want a general election.

Includes reporting by Hayley Halpin, Gráinne Ní Aodha, Órla Ryan and © AFP 2019  

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