The UK is “ready to be flexible” in order to secure a trade deal with the EU, Michael Gove has said.
The Cabinet Office minister said UK and EU negotiators will meet weekly in July with a “keen focus on finding an early understanding” on the “principles which will underpin a broad agreement”.
His Labour opposite number Rachel Reeves warned leaving on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would be a “calamity” for the UK.
In a statement to the Commons, Mr Gove said: “We’re 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’re aiming to provide.”
The Tory frontbencher said the UK is “ready to be flexible” in how it secures a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, and also dismissed an extension of the transition period beyond December.
He said there is “no intrinsic reason” why a deal cannot be concluded in good time, saying: “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 next January we leave the regulatory reach of the EU and embrace the new opportunities our independence will bring.”
Ms Reeves said Boris Johnson’s promised “over-ready deal” has yet to be delivered.
The ingredients of such a deal were published and the country expects them to be delivered uponRachel Reeves
She added: “The Prime Minister staked his own authority on having an oven-ready deal, but today in the minister’s statement he said that we want to intensify talks in July and to find, if possible, an early understanding of principles underlying any agreement.
“That doesn’t sound like an oven-ready deal to me and is the cause of great concern to all of us.
“Yet the ingredients of such a deal were published and the country expects them to be delivered upon.”
Later, Mr Gove sought to reassure Northern Ireland MPs the UK Government is seeking a deal with the EU which protects their constituents.
The DUP’s Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) asked what further progress has been made on ensuring there will be no additional declaration forms needing to be completed between Northern Ireland sending goods to Great Britain.
“They will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK,” Mr Gove said.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) asked what measures the Government is taking to protect Covid-19 contact tracing on the island of Ireland in the absence of a “data equivalence regime”.
She said: “There is a deep and growing unease in Northern Ireland and indeed across the island of Ireland about the prospect of a no-trade deal exit in six months.”
Responding, Mr Gove said: “She raises a very important issue. Data equivalence… is separate from these negotiations but it is important on the island of Ireland to continue to share information.”
Alliance MP Stephen Farry (North Down) asked: “Does the minister realise that in the event we fail to secure a deal with the European Union, and the Government opts to trade on its terms, then the impact of a border down the Irish Sea would be more severe with businesses facing more costs and households too?”
Mr Gove replied: “It is the case that we will push to secure a deal and a deal would be in everyone’s interests.”
Labour MP Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) asked what steps the Government is taking to prevent panic buying in the event of a trade agreement with the EU not being in place at the end of the transition period.
She added: “We’ve seen the spectre of panic buying and stockpiling at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“What preparations has the minister made to prevent stockpiling and panic buying by worried consumers in the event of the disruption and chaos that a no-deal Brexit would cause to the supply chain?”
Mr Gove replied: “It is the case that if we leave without a specific free trade agreement that certain steps will need to be taken by Government and by others in order to make sure not only that we can meet the challenges but also that we can meet the opportunities and the Cabinet Office and others constantly review at all points what we need to do.
“But I think the spectre that the honourable lady invokes is not one that should bother her or others.”