Michael Gove has revealed that almost 100 civil servants have been redeployed from the Brexit taskforces dealing with the UK’s future relationship with the EU to help with the government response to coronavirus.
Appearing before the Future Relationship with the European Committee the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was questioned by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock on how many civil servants working on Brexit had been redrafted to help with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Gove said that it was a ‘significant number… I think it is probably fair to say it is just shy of 100.’
Kinnock suggested such a figure will have a ‘massive impact’ on the ‘capacity to complete the talks by the 1st of July’ without applying for an extension.
But whilst Gove admitted it was a large number, he was unmoved by the suggestion. He said that specialists from other Whitehall departments were being moved to help with Brexit.
Have your say
Send your letters for publication to The New European by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and pick up an edition each Thursday for more comment and analysis. Find your nearest stockist here or subscribe to a print or digital edition for just £13. You can also join our readers' Facebook group to keep the discussion and debate going with thousands of fellow pro-Europeans.
He said: ‘It is the case that those have been redeployed from the two taskforces – taskforce Europe and the transition taskforce – their redeployment of some of the very, very best civil servants in the country is appropriate to the challenge we face.
‘But it is also the case that during the conduct of negotiations last week, that Taskforce Europe had its work supplemented from individuals across Whitehall, who were subject specialists in their area.
‘So taskforce Europe and the transition taskforce have had some of their top people redeployed to Covid-19, but at the same time the teams have had all the help they need from departmental specialists in areas like fisheries and trade to ensure that their work can continue.’
Gove told the committee that the coronavirus should ‘concentrate the minds’ of the EU, so that the talks can be wrapped up so officials can focus on tackling the disease.
He said: ‘Limited progress was made in the talks but we believe it’s still entirely possible to conclude negotiations on the timetable that has been outlined.
‘I think the Covid crisis in some respects should concentrate the minds of EU negotiators in enforcing the vital importance of coming to a conclusion.’
A spokesperson from Best for Britain, a pro-EU pressure group, criticised Gove’s comments and the government’s insistence to continue with the talks.
They said: ‘It makes sense to shift the government’s focus from Brexit to dealing with coronavirus.
‘But that leaves a big hole in the government’s plans to agree a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, and its ability to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘Instead, the government should give itself and its trading partners more time by extending the transition period. That way it can both get this virus under control, and also ensure businesses aren’t hit by a double whammy of economic shocks at the end of the year.’
Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: ‘It is deeply concerning that the government still refuses to extend the transition period during the coronavirus crisis.
‘Gove says that there is a two to one chance of a deal but why is the government so happy to gamble on our future during this crisis?
‘Gove admitted limited progress has been made on negotiations during this round. The government must now face up to this reality and seek an extension to the transition period. We must prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the British public over an arbitrary deadline and Brexit ideology.’