London Brexit talks in doubt because of coronavirus | Politics

Brexit talks due to take place in London next week have been thrown into doubt because of the coronavirus, Michael Gove has confirmed.

Gove told MPs fresh concerns about the second round of talks going ahead as planned had been raised by Brussels counterparts this morning.

About 150 delegates from Brussels were due to arrive in London for three days of talks next Wednesday.

Gove also said there was a question mark over the inaugural meeting of the EU-UK joint committee, on which he will sit, on 30 March.

Asked at the Brexit select committee if talks would be affected by the coronavirus, Gove said: “It’s a live question. We were looking forward to a joint committee in the UK on the 30th and we were also looking forward to the next stage of negotiations going ahead, but we have had indications today from Belgium there may be specific public health concerns.”

It is not clear what the fresh concerns are, but Belgium has confirmed its first death from the virus.

Last week two cases of the virus were confirmed by authorities in Brussels, one at the European Defence Agency and another at the Council of the European Union.

Gove was answering questions at the first Brexit select committee hearing since the election.

He defended the decision not to publish an impact assessment of the EU deal the government is pursuing despite issuing a 60-page assessment last week on the impact a deal with the US would have.

“As load-bearing devices go they [impact assessments] are not perhaps the most effective ways of delivering a proper range of views of economic consequences,” he said.

As Gove tried to make light of the apparent contradictory positions the government had adopted on impact assessments, he accidentally poured water over his phone and briefing papers.

Alain Tolhurst

Michael Gove was so pleased with his attempt at humour at the FREU committee he poured water onto his own phone and papers

March 11, 2020

As head of the exit operations groups and a member of the cabinet’s exit strategy group and member of the EU-UK joint committee, Gove is one of the most powerful government ministers in relation to Brexit.

He was grilled by MPs over checks on goods to Northern Ireland and other key subjects on which the UK and the EU have clashed.

He declined to answer questions about the checks mandated by the Northern Ireland protocol, saying: “That will be a matter for the joint committee.”

His answer appears to underline what sources say is an agreement by both sides to “deal down the rhetoric” to allow negotiators to get on with the challenging task of getting an outline deal by the June deadline for the “stock taking” review of talks.

The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also confirmed that the UK would produce a legal text of its negotiation position but reserved the right not to publish the text until it saw fit.

The EU is also producing a legal text of its position with sources saying that when published the two papers will underline how far apart both sides are on key areas – fisheries, state aid and the level playing field and crime and justice.

The Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accused the government of misleading voters during the general election campaign by claiming there was an “oven-ready Brexit” when “in fact it was at the back of the frozen food section” and nowhere near completion.

Kinnock put it to Gove that he knew it would be impossible for Britain to get a quota-free and tariff-free deal if it did not accept alignment with the EU on state aid and the level playing field.

Gove hit back saying a frozen food version of Brexit would just take “longer for the microwave to ping” and in any case it was possible to get something like the “Marks and Spencer deal you get – a starter, main course and a pudding and you decide which ones you want to get but all for £9.99”.

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