Michael Gove seems to have forgotten what’s written in the government’s own Brexit deal.
The senior cabinet minister was asked this morning whether the transition period — which is currently slated to end in December 2020 — “could be extended”. His reply: “no.”
The BBC’s Mishal Husain wanted to double-check. “Definitely not?” she asked, to which Mr Gove reiterated “absolutely.”
Listeners would be left with the impression that there was no way the Brexit transition period could be extended beyond the end of next year.
But in fact, Article 132 of the government’s Withdrawal Agreement explicitly says that the transition period, which is designed to smooth the UK’s exit from the EU while we negotiate a free trade deal with Europe, can be extended for “up to 1 or 2 years.”
The idea is that if we haven’t got a trade deal in place by next Christmas, we won’t face an immediate no-deal cliff-edge.
So how did Mr Gove sound so certain? It looks like he’s blurred the lines between what could happen and what the government thinks should happen.
He went on to say that the government “will make sure that we have a proper free trade agreement with the European Union,” which, if it materialises, would negate the need to extend the transition period.
But that’s rather different to what Mr Gove had told Radio 4 listeners just moments before. Contrary to what he claims, the Brexit transition period can be extended beyond 2020 — it’s just not the government’s preferred route.
And of course it’s worth remembering that the Article 50 period we’re in now has been extended more than once after agreement between London and Brussels.