Michael Gove has dodged a question over whether his government will seek a Brexit extension by issuing a sly remark aimed at the SNP.
Gove was summed to the Commons by his Labour counterpart Rachel Reeves to answer updates on the latest round of Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
Reeves was particularly concerned about the risk of checks on goods between Britain and Northern Ireland – something Boris Johnson had previously insisted would not happen.
She said : ‘Peace in Northern Ireland was hard-won, we must not jeopardise it.
‘In January, the prime minister guaranteed unfettered access for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
‘Last week it was revealed that the government would implement checks on some products crossing the Irish Sea and that there would be new infrastructure at ports coming from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
‘So can (Gove) confirm whether these additional checks are being planned for when the road map for implementing the protocol will be published?’
But Gove said the government’s position would be explained in due course. He said: ‘Peace in Northern Ireland, she’s absolutely right, is critical and we will shortly be publishing a framework document on how we intend to implement the protocol in order to ensure that we have unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain and we preserve the gains from the peace process.’
Answering questions from fellow MPs, the SNP’s Margaret Ferrier asked whether the UK government would seek an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to save businesses the turmoil of a messy exit from the EU.
‘The IMF and business leaders want the government to reduce economic uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic,’ she said addressing the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
‘Recent polling found that two-thirds of the public want an extension to the transition period.
‘I know the minister is not always fond of expert opinion but will he heed their warnings and buy business extra time to adapt to the economic headwinds that Brexit will bring?’ she asked.
Taking the floor, Gove avoided the question entirely and instead used the opportunity to focus on Scottish independence.
‘The universal view of experts is that Scotland operates the largest deficit in Europe.
‘Were Scotland to become independent it would be perilous for the people of the country that I love and that is why the union that works, the United Kingdom, should endure.’
The government has come under sustained pressure to extend the Brexit trade talks with polls showing a majority of Leave voters supporting the idea.
Reacting to Gove’s responses, the SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Pete Wishart told the Commons: ‘This government is doing nothing than playing political games with the futures of millions of people by pursuing this anti-EU agenda at all costs.’