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Gove ridicules Labour’s Brexit plans as Government seeks compromises

Business Secretary Greg Clark adopted a more consensual tone in the Brexit deal debate.

Michael Gove used controversial language (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Michael Gove used controversial language (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Michael Gove used colourful language to dismiss Labour’s Brexit plans before the Government later signalled its desire for compromises across the Commons.

The Environment Secretary took aim at the Opposition after citing reports which suggested shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner had referred to his party’s official position as “bollocks”.

Praising the Brent North MP’s “truth and perfect clarity”, Mr Gove said the Commons was grateful for his casting of light on “the testicular nature” of Labour’s six Brexit tests.

After Mr Gove’s taunting of Labour, Business Secretary Greg Clark concluded the latest day of debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal by indicating the Government is prepared to accept a backbench Labour amendment which attempts to protect workers’ rights and environmental standards.

Mr Clark told MPs he is “hopeful” the amendment from Labour’s Caroline Flint, John Mann and others could be accepted and ministers “stand ready to engage” – with talks expected.

He also said it is “important” the front benches work together “in establishing what this House can support” over Brexit, warning against a “damaging” no-deal Brexit and promoting a “greater sense of compromise” to ensure Brexit is implemented.

Mr Clark’s attempt to reach out stood in stark contrast to a typically punchy Commons intervention from Mr Gove, who said of Mr Gardiner’s reported view on Labour’s policy: “He summed them up, pithily, in a word which in Spanish translates as ‘cojones’ and in English rhymes with ‘rollocks’.

“I know, Mr Speaker, there are some distinguished citizens in this country who have put on their cars a poster or sticker saying ‘bollocks to Brexit’ – but we now know from Labour’s own front bench that their official Brexit position is bollocks.”

Mr Gove added: “I have to say that the shadow international trade secretary is a jewel and an ornament to the Labour front bench.

“He speaks the truth with perfect clarity, and in his description of Labour’s own policy can I say across the House we’re grateful to him, grateful to the constant Gardiner for the way in which he has cast light on the testicular nature of Labour’s position.”

Commons Speaker John Bercow confirmed Mr Gove had not been disorderly and his language was “a matter of taste”.

The Secretary sat opposite me will quote some of the business organisations that have cautiously welcomed the Prime Minister's deal, but I gently say to him that they are doing so with a gun held to their head Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey

Brexiteer Mr Gove also warned that a no-deal would see “economic turbulence”, at least in the short term, and that tariffs of up to 40% would “absolutely” be applied by the EU to certain goods.

He later claimed other European countries will be envious of the UK’s deal with the EU when pushed by the SNP’s Patrick Grady (Glasgow North).

Mr Gove said: “I think other countries will be envious of the position that we will be in because I think it will be the case, for the sake of argument, that some Italian politicians will look at our ability to have quota and tariff-free access to their markets, and yet at the same time be out of the jurisdiction of the ECJ and to have full control of our borders and to be paying no money.”

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey accused ministers of holding a “gun to the head” of British business to back Mrs May’s deal.

She said: “This deal is simply not good, it does not work for business and industry, it does not work for working people, it does not work for our environment and in fact the former head of MI6 as we’ve sat here today is reported to have told the Government that it threatens national security.

“The Withdrawal Agreement and the outline political declaration will not ensure the relationship with the European Union needed for UK businesses to operate unhindered post-Brexit.”

She added: “The Secretary sat opposite me will quote some of the business organisations that have cautiously welcomed the Prime Minister’s deal, but I gently say to him that they are doing so with a gun held to their head.

“They have been presented with a false choice between this deal or no deal by a Government that is recklessly threatening the worst case scenario and attempting to run down the clock, in fact it’s economic sabotage.”

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Business Secretary Greg Clark (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Clark later spoke of the backbench Labour amendment and suggested contributions to the debate could show “what is possible more broadly”.

He said: “We stand ready to engage in those discussions on this particular amendment.

“We, as ever, need to look at the implications and the drafting very carefully but I’m hopeful this will be an amendment that it will be possible to accept.”

Mr Clark also said MPs have a “responsibility” to do what they can as “time is running out” to prevent the “damaging no-deal Brexit”.

He said MPs’ views in the debate will be “seriously listened to and taken into account and acted upon”, adding: “So in the weeks ahead this whole House can move towards a greater sense of compromise and resolution to be able to implement the decision that the people of the United Kingdom took, but at the same time to make sure we can move forward as an economy.”

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