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Gove rules out Brexit extension despite fresh plea from first ministers

Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford said the transition period should not end on December 31 in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Cabinet Office Michael Gove has confirmed the UK will not extend the Brexit transition period (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Cabinet Office Michael Gove has confirmed the UK will not extend the Brexit transition period (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Cabinet Office Michael Gove has confirmed the UK will not extend the Brexit transition period (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has confirmed the UK Government will not extend the Brexit transition period, after the first ministers of Scotland and Wales called for it to do so.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford said exiting the transition period at the end of this year, when the UK economy will just be beginning its recovery from coronavirus, would be “extraordinarily reckless”.

But in a tweet on Friday, Mr Gove said he has officially given notice to EU negotiators that the UK Government will not request an extension beyond the December 31 deadline.

Later, Scottish and Welsh ministers decided not to take part in a Brexit conference call with the UK Government in protest at Mr Gove’s actions.

His statement was made during a meeting of the EU Joint Committee.

Mr Gove tweeted: “I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.”

UK sources were keen to depict the meeting as the last formal opportunity to request an extension, as it was the final scheduled meeting of the joint committee before the July 1 deadline to make such a request.

But both sides can agree to hold another meeting, where under the Withdrawal Agreement a delay could be asked for.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for the transition period to be extended.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford warned in their letter that “fundamental issues” still remained between the UK and EU negotiators after the most recent round of talks on a deal.

They wrote: “No-one could reproach the UK Government for changing its position in the light of the wholly unforeseeable Covid-19 crisis, particularly as the EU has made it clear it is open to an extension request.

“We therefore call on you to take the final opportunity the next few weeks provide to ask for an extension to the transition period in order to provide a breathing space to complete the negotiations, to implement the outcome, and the opportunity for our businesses to find their feet after the enormous disruption of recent months.

“At the time the Withdrawal Agreement was signed, no-one could have imagined the enormous economic dislocation which the Covid 19 pandemic has caused – in Wales, Scotland, the whole of the UK, in the EU and across the world.”

The letter claimed that, at best, there would only be a “bare bones” trade deal in place by December, or a move to a no-deal exit from the EU.

Counsel General for Wales Jeremy Miles, Scotland’s Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell and Europe Minister Jenny Gilruth – the Scottish and Welsh representatives on the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations – refused to take part in a conference call with Penny Mordaunt planned for 6pm on Friday.

In a joint statement, they said: “We cannot accept a way of working in which the views of the devolved Governments are simply dismissed before we have had a chance to discuss them.

“In reality, the meetings we have had have simply been an opportunity for the UK Government to inform us of their views, not to listen or respond to ours.

“We will be writing to Michael Gove to seek a complete reboot of these talks and meanwhile we want the EU 27 to know that the position being taken by the UK Government with regard to an extension of the transition period runs counter to the views of our Governments and, in our opinion, risks doing serious damage to the people of our countries.”

PA