Stephen Kinnock: I wanted to ask about this question of proximity. Your party, Mr Gove, fought the general election on the basis of an oven ready deal, and that oven-ready deal was as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration. On 27 February you came to the House and argued that proximity is not a determining factor in FTAs with neighbouring states. Yet paragraph 77 of the political declaration states that, “Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field”.
Can you explain the disparity between those two positions? On the one hand, you are signing up to a political declaration that puts proximity as the defining factor in the relationship, but then everything that has happened since the general election seems to be the Government walking away from that commitment.
Michael Gove: I do not think we have been walking away from the political declaration at all. The point about the political declaration is that it envisages a zero tariff, zero quota free trade agreement at the end of this process. What we have been seeking to do is to build on existing precedents that the EU acknowledges and understands, and saying that we want to have a relationship entirely similar to that which the EU has with other sovereign equals. Of course, it is a geographical fact that the UK is proximate, but that does not mean and need not mean that we accept EU institutions exercising a supervisory role in Great Britain. That is the distinction that we were seeking to draw.
Stephen Kinnock: Why then did you sign up in the political declaration to “robust commitments to ensure a level playing field” because of proximity? That is fundamental to the whole argument about a level playing field and the need to have alignment in order to get zero tariffs and zero quotas.
Michael Gove: There are two things. The volume of trade that the UK does with the EU is broadly similar to the volume of trade that the US does with the EU, and yet the EU were perfectly prepared during the TTIP negotiations to offer a zero tariff arrangement to the US, even though there was no geographical proximity there. We take the view that we can look at the totality of commitments that the EU has entered into.
When it comes to issues of workers’ rights, social protection and the environment—which are often the issues people refer to when they use the phrase “level playing field”—the Prime Minister and I have been clear that not only will we not row back on protections in any of those areas, we hope and I believe we are already setting the pace when it comes to areas of environmental protection. The EU can feel reassured, if it is concerned about these areas, that there will not be any attempt on our part to erode environmental protections in a way that they might consider would give us a temporary competitive advantage.
Stephen Kinnock: The premise was that we will get a zero tariff and zero quota deal, and yet the political declaration is saying that without those level playing fields, particularly around state aid and competition, we will not get it. Do you not think it is a problem that this was sold in the general election as oven-ready, but in fact it was at the back of the frozen food section?
Michael Gove: No. It is the case that you can often have frozen foods that are indeed oven-ready; they just take slightly longer for the microwave to ping. The critical point is that the political declaration makes the point that both sides want to achieve that zero tariff, zero quota deal. More broadly, one of the reasons why it should be possible, with goodwill, to conclude a deal is that the deal we are putting forward—and this relates to the point that the Chairman made about publishing texts—is one that is built on precedence. We want to say, “In this respect it is similar or completely analogous to the relationship that you have concluded with Canada, Japan or South Korea”. In that sense, to extend the metaphor, rather than having to assemble all the ingredients from scratch and trying to cook altogether, it is an already prepared set of dishes. It is rather like the Marks & Spencer deal where you get a starter, a main course and a pudding, then you can decide which of the three you want to get, all for £9.99, and then you are away.
Stephen Kinnock: It sounds absolutely delicious, Mr Gove. The thing I wanted to move on to was the Northern Ireland Protocol, and particularly the issue of state aid. As you know, under the Northern Ireland Protocol Northern Ireland is signed up to the full panoply of state aid laws, rules and regulations. Can you explain how that is going to impact on businesses that are trading out of England into Northern Ireland, and then on to the European Union? All of those businesses are going to be subject to the full panoply of state aid regulations. Is that correct?
Michael Gove: No, we do not believe so. The subsidy regime that the UK proposes to put in place after we have left the EU will be one that the EU will recognise as a robust system. More than that, it is also important, as I briefly mentioned earlier to the Chair, that the effective working of the protocol is a matter for the Joint Committee to resolve. I am looking forward to that meeting in order to ensure that we can develop the protocol and implement it in all its provisions, in a way that ensures that the people and economy of Northern Ireland benefit.