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Michael Gove says chance of Brexit deal 'less than 50%'
17 December 2020, 16:13 | Updated: 17 December 2020, 16:55
Cabinet Office Michael Gove has said he believes the chances of an agreement with the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal are "less than 50%".
Giving evidence to the Commons Brexit Committee, Mr Gove said the "most likely outcome" was that the current transition period would end on December 31 without a deal.
"I think, regrettably, the chances are more likely that we won't secure an agreement. So at the moment less than 50%," he said.
Mr Gove also said that while the negotiations with the EU had made progress, "significant" differences between the two sides remained.
"The process of negotiation has managed to narrow down areas of difference. It is certainly the case that there are fewer areas of difference now than there were in October or indeed July," he told the Commons Brexit Committee.
"The areas of difference are still significant and they do go to the very heart of the mandate which the country gave the Government in 2016."
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He told the Committee that the Government will not seek to negotiate a fresh trade agreement with the EU next year if they cannot reach a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period.
The Cabinet Office minister told the Commons Brexit Committee that December 31 was a "fixed point in law," when the transition must end.
"That would be it. We would have left on WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms," he said.
"It is still the case of course that there would be contact between the UK and European nations and politicians as one would expect.
"But what we would not be doing is attempting to negotiate a new deal."
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Michel Barnier said today that there has been "good progress" in talks on a post-Brexit trade deal but the "last stumbling blocks remain."
Mr Barnier briefed European Parliament leaders about the state of the talks, which he said were in the "final stretch".
He said: "We will only sign a deal protecting EU interests and principles."
The talks were given the green light to continue on Sunday following a meeting between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
But time is running short for a deal to be reached by negotiators, backed by national leaders and then approved by MPs and MEPs.