Brexit negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are expected to speak on Monday after Michael Gove said the door was “ajar” for trade talks to resume. If these fail then the PM has said that the UK will revert to ‘Australia-style’ system. However, Alok Sharma struggled to differentiate between the two today when hen appeared on national radio.
His comments come as Brexit negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are expected to speak on Monday after Michael Gove said the door was “ajar” for trade talks to resume.
The Cabinet Office minister said negotiations could go ahead if the EU changes its approach, despite Downing Street previously declaring discussions as “over”.
EU negotiator Mr Barnier was expecting to be called by his Downing Street counterpart on Monday afternoon, though No 10 was no more specific than saying the discussion would come early in the week.
Sharma appeared on LBC this morning and was asked how small businesses should prepare for No Deal.
He replied: “The Prime Minister has been very clear on this that we are preparing to leave on Australia terms, which is WTO plus additional measures.
“But this is up to the EU. We have always been very clear that we would like to leave on a Canadian-style deal trade deal but it was clear on Thursday that wasn’t the direction it was going.”
Presenter Nick Ferrari then demanded Sharma explain the difference between an Australian deal and a No Deal.
The business Secretary said: “Well, the Australian deal is the deal where you are working with countries on a WTO basis.”
“So it’s a No Deal?” said Mr Ferrari, “I don’t see any distinction between an Australian deal and a No Deal”.
After a lengthy pause Sharma replied: “It’s a question of semantics at the end of the day.”
Ferrari then replied: “It’s the future of this nation, and it’s relying on semantics.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s five Anglican archbishops intervened to criticise the Government’s controversial new Brexit legislation as setting a “disastrous precedent” in a letter to the Financial Times ahead of a Lords debate.
Led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, they said the UK Internal Market Bill has “enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences” by paving the way for a breach of international law by overriding parts of the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.
It comes as Britain’s pharmaceutical industry called on Mr Johnson to strike a side-deal with Brussels to avoid shortages of medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) told The Independent the absence of a sector-specific agreement would lead to delays of up to six weeks in supplies.
ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett told the paper such an agreement was “a very bare minimum that we need for medicines desperately”.