20:56 GMT03 August 2020
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    Britain left the European Union on 31 January, almost four years after voters opted for withdrawal in the 2016 referendum. But a deal about trade between the UK and the bloc was due to be concluded before the end of the transition period, which runs out in December 2020.

    Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove’s cat upstaged him on Monday, 27 April, when it miaowed loudly in the background as he took part in a remote hearing with the UK Parliament's Brexit Committee.

    The moaning moggie triggered an avalanche of tweets on Twitter.

    ​Mr Gove told the Brexit Committee the government planned to publish in a “matter of weeks” the details of their trade position in the talks.

    ​He said both sides would review the negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU at the end of June but said he was confident they would be able to conclude the negotiations “within the agreed timescale”.

    Mr Gove agreed with the chair of the committee, Labour MP Hillary Benn, that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been “downbeat” about the talks.

    ​Referring to the UK government’s demand for a Canada-style trade agreement, Mr Gove said: “We are not asking for anything bespoke or tailor-made. We are asking for something off the peg. It should be quite rapid to secure.”

    “The COVID crisis should concentrate the minds of European negotiators,” said Mr Gove.

    Mr Gove, who said it would cost "billions" to extend the transition period, confirmed that 47 civil servants had been moved from post-Brexit planning to COVID-19 work.​

    Mr Gove said the Northern Ireland protocol was part of the trade talks and he said they were conscious of the importance of preserving the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement.

    Mr Benn pressed him on how Northern Ireland-based businesses should be planning for the post-transition period but Mr Gove said he did not want to “prejudice” those bodies working on the details.

    ​Ulster-born SNP MP Philippa Whitford asked him about the EU opening a "mini embassy" in Belfast and Mr Gove said it was not a matter for the British government.

    Sally Ann Hart, the Conservative MP for Hastings, asked Mr Gove if the UK government would have been able to give such a large economic stimulus to coronavirus-hit businesses if it had still been in the EU. 

    He said it was an "interesting and open question."

    Tags:
    Brexit, Hilary Benn, Michael Gove, European Union
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