PM dimisses olive branch
Johnson rejects Barnier offer to resume Brexit talks
Michel Barnier: offered talks on all subjects
Boris Johnson has dismissed an offer from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to hold further talks.
Mr Barnier is understood to have made an offer to meet some of the Prime Minister’s concerns in a telephone conversation with his British counterpart Lord Frost.
These concerns focus on Mr Johnson’s demand for discussion on “all subjects”.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove immediately welcomed what he described as a “constructive move” to break the deadlock and told MPs in the Commons that “it is the case that Michel Barnier has agreed both to the intensification of talks but also to working on legal texts.”
He said it was “a reflection of the strength and resolution that our prime minister showed in stark contrast to the approach that the opposition has often enjoined us of simply accepting what the EU want at every stage.”
But Downing Street continued to insist that the offer from Mr Barnier provided “no basis to resume talks”.
Mr Barnier had already been told on Friday not to come to London as planned because there would be “no point”.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “The UK has noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation.
“However, the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU.
“This means an EU approach consistent with trying to find an agreement between sovereign equals and with acceptance that movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the UK. The two teams agreed to remain in close touch.”
Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs parliament’s EU negotiations committee, said it was “quite clear talks are continuing and I think the war of words now needs to stop.
“Both sides need to get together and agree a deal recognising that both have to compromise.”
Earlier, Business Secretary Alok Sharma had been drawn into a commenting on claims that the government was using the term “Australia-style deal” as a cover for “no deal”.
Mr Sharma said the difference was just “semantics”.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary said: “A ‘No Deal’ might just be semantics for Alok Sharma, but it’s not semantics for the manufacturers, farmers and many businesses across the country who have been clear that it could have serious economic consequences for them.
“The government is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes to pretend No Deal doesn’t mean No Deal. The Business Secretary should be listening to businesses and pulling out all the stops to deliver the deal Ministers promised was oven ready, not dismissing their concerns.”
SNP MP Pete Wishart said: “Just this week, over 70 UK business groups – representing more than seven million workers – warned the UK government against its no-deal Brexit threats. Yet the UK government carries on regardless.
“The recent remarks from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have only confirmed that they are putting the interests of the Tory party first, and gambling with the economic and social interests of Scotland and the UK.”