Government '90 per cent of the way' to securing Brexit deal, Culture Secretary tells LBC

11 December 2020, 08:23 | Updated: 11 December 2020, 08:43

By Megan White

The Government is "90 per cent of the way" to securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has told LBC.

But he said the remaining areas are "quite tricky," adding that the Prime Minister has the "full backing of the Cabinet" in refusing to concede over key issues such as fishing rights.

Mr Johnson said on Thursday there is a "strong possibility" the UK will fail to strike Brexit deal with EU, and told his Cabinet to "get on and make those preparations" for a departure on terms like Australia's, which does not have a trade deal with Europe, unlike Canada.

Read more: Foreign Secretary plays down suggestions port delays caused by Brexit

But former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the arrangement ensured the country faces "very large barriers" to trading with the EU and warned Mr Johnson that "Australia's relationship with the EU is not one from a trade point of view that I think Britain would want, frankly."

Asked about Mr Turnbull's comments, Mr Dowden told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "I would much prefer that we had a free trade relationship with the European Union, like that Canada has with the European Union, but that can't be achieved at any price and there are two areas of significant difference between us.

"It is worth saying by the way, the Cabinet was briefed on this yesterday and we discussed it extensively, we are 90 per cent of the way there, but the remaining areas are quite tricky.

"Firstly there's no country in the world that doesn't retain control of its sovereign waters, its fishing rights, so we need to see some movement on that.

Read more: EU leaders meet as 'gloomy' Brexit talks hang in the balance

Read more: Congestion at UK ports 'out of control' ahead of Brexit

"And secondly, there's no other free trade deal in the world, whether that's a deal the EU have done with Japan or with Canada, which says that if the EU chooses to change its regulations, the other country, in this case the United Kingdom, would have to follow suit or face the consequences.

"The fear that we have is that will keep Britain in the sphere of influence in the European Union, and mean that we haven't genuinely left, so that's why the Prime Minister is remaining firm on those points and has the full backing of the Cabinet in doing so."

When further quizzed over the former Australian PM's comments, Mr Dowden added: "As I said, our preference would be that Canada-style deal, but it can't be achieved at any price.

"It's interesting, for example, today, that the Labour Party seem to be indicating that we should accept this.

"Well I don't think we should accept those kind of terms."

On Thursday, the Prime Minister told reporters: "I've just updated Cabinet on where we've got to with our friends and partners in the EU and they agreed very strongly with me that the deal on the table is really not at the moment right for the UK.

"And I'll tell you why, there's a couple of things at least, the most important is really in just the last couple of weeks, they've brought back the idea of this equivalence between the UK and the EU which basically means that whatever new laws they brought in we would have to follow or else face punishment, sanctions, tariffs or whatever.

"And it was put to me that this was kind of a bit like twins and the UK is one twin the EU is another and if the EU decides to have a haircut then the UK is going to have a haircut or else face punishment."

He said that forcing the UK to keep up with EU regulations was "not the sensible way to proceed" and claimed it is unlike any other free trade deal.

"It's a way of keeping the UK kind of locked in the EU's orbit - in their regulatory orbit," he added.