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Mon, 28 September 2020

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Michael Gove downplays Cabinet split over Brexit border plans and says Liz Truss one of his ‘bestest friends’

Michael Gove downplays Cabinet split over Brexit border plans and says Liz Truss one of his ‘bestest friends’

A letter leaked on Friday hinted at a possible split between Liz Truss and Michael Gove on border arrangements (PA)

3 min read

Michael Gove has dismissed claims of a dispute with fellow Cabinet minister Liz Truss over the Government’s post-Brexit border plans, referring to her as one of his “bestest friends”.

It comes after a leaked letter, seen by Business Insider, revealed that the International Trade Secretary had written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Gove over current plans for the UK border. 

In the letter, Ms Truss warns that current proposals put the UK at risk of smuggling and could leave the country open to legal challenge.

But quizzed by Sky’s Sophy Ridge on his relationship with his colleague, Mr Gove moved to quash rumours of a rift, insisting: “I love Liz.”

And on whether he had replied to the letter, he said: “We don't comment on leaked documents. But Liz and I talk all the time. She's one of my bestest friends in Cabinet.”

The Government had previously been adamant that goods coming in from the EU will face the same customs checks as those from other countries from January 1.

But a new three-stage approach will see checks introduced gradually, under an approach dubbed “flexible and pragmatic” by the Government.

When asked if the new system would be up and running in time for next year, Mr Gove said: “Yes.”

But, setting out her concerns in the leaked letter, Ms Truss demanded a “clear view of operational plans, timescales and risks going forward“ for her department.

And she warned: "We need to ensure that the UK border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining our credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business."

The letter also appeared to confirm that government plans to waive the need for firms to make export declarations in the first phase of the new border proposals have been dropped.

'TAKE BACK CONTROL'

Mr Gove's move to dampen talk of a split in government over the issue came as he unveiled a £705m package of investment in border infrastructure.

Explaining the plans on Sunday, the Cabinet Office minister said: “We're spending just over £700 million in order to make sure that our borders can enable the smooth flow of traffic but also keep us safe."

And he added:“When people voted to take back control in the referendum three and a half years ago, they wanted us to be in a position where we could trade with our neighbours in Europe, yes, but also have new trading relationships with other countries.

"In order to do that, that means that we need to have our borders upgraded in order to facilitate that trade. It's also the case that we want to make sure that we can have tough and secure borders to deal with organised crime and other security threats.

“And that's one of the reasons why we're investing in more Border Force personnel.

"The technology that we're investing in today will make it easier for people to do business, and also fulfil the promise of taking back control which people voted for.”

The Government is also planning to launch a fresh public information campaign — dubbed ‘The UK’s new start: let’s get going‘ — to help businesses prepare for the border changes.

Labour are urging ministers to give a Commons update in the wake of Ms Truss's leaked letter, which the opposition party say “lifts the lid on a growing sense of chaos and confusion between Cabinet ministers at the Government’s complacent approach to vital preparations ahead of 31 December”.

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