Brexit latest: Stephen Barclay says Britain won't ditch EU rules 'for the sake of it' after Priti Patel insists on divergence

Ewan Somerville

The Brexit secretary appeared to tone down a fellow cabinet minister's comments on diverging from the European Union after Brexit.

Stephen Barclay outlined a somewhat softer government stance, saying the UK would not abandon EU rules "just for the sake of it".

It came just minutes after home secretary Priti Patel insisted the country "will be diverging”, despite the bloc warning this could hamper the chances of a free trade deal.

EU chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said last week that it would be “very difficult” for a deal to be signed if Number 10 does not commit to its rules on trade, immigration and finance.

But Ms Patel told Sky's Sophie Ridge programme this morning that there is “no disagreement in government at all” that there will be divergence from the bloc's rules.


“There is no disagreement in Government at all, we are clear – we are leaving. We will be taking back control of our laws, our money, our borders.

“In terms of divergence, we are not having alignment. We will be diverging. We want to take control of our laws, money and our borders.”

However, Mr Barclay told the BBC's Andrew Marr soon after: "We’re coming out of the single market, we’re coming out of the customs union. We’re not just going to diverge just for the sake of it – we need to look at where the opportunities are.

“But it is true that we are going to have control of our approach to regulation and that’s the very essence of Brexit: that we can do things differently, particularly where, for example, there is innovation, there is new technologies, there’s things where we want to move quickly.

“Brexit at its very core is that we will have control of our laws, our regulation and that is why we can’t be a rule-taker: we need to have that opportunity.”

Priti Patel issued a defiant message to the EU on divergence, later dampened by the Brexit Secretary (Sky News)

Mr Verhofstadt, the EU’s Brexit coordinator, said last week that a free trade deal depended on Britain's willingness to comply with EU rules.

He said: "I think both sides have an interest to be very ambitious. But how far this will go is very difficult to say because it will depend on what the willingness is of the UK side to also comply with a number of standards in the European Union.”

Asked on the outcomes if Britain does not sign up to such stipulations, he said: "It will be very difficult to have a broad free trade agreement at that moment."

Business leaders have warned against non-alignment with the bloc in the wake of Chancellor Sajid Javid's vow to split last weekend.

European Parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt has said he is 'absolutely not positive' about the PM's proposal. (AP)

It comes after the prime minister officially signed the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which he hailed as a symbol to “move forward as one country”. It gained Royal assent from the Queen on Thursday and European leaders will vote to approve it next week.

The government has also unveiled a raft of celebrations to mark the departure . Downing Street will feature a light display, Whitehall buildings will be illuminated with the colours of Britain's four nations, Mr Johnson will deliver a special address to the nation, a countdown clock will be projected on Downing Street's black bricks to countdown to the 11pm deadline, and Union Jack flags will line the Mall and Parliament Square.

The PM will chair a cabinet meeting in the north of England on Friday, the same day that a 50p Brexit commemoration coin will enter circulation , and ministers will tour the country to herald in a new chapter for the nation.

The prime minister has vowed to secure a trade deal by the end of 2020, when the 11-month transition period that opens after the UK formally leaves on January 31 ends.

However, the EU has repeatedly said the period is too short to guarantee a comprehensive trade arrangement.

Helen McEntree, the Irish minister for European affairs, added to the doubt on Sunday morning, warning there is "a huge amount of work still to do" to sign a deal and that "nothing will change" on February 1 until existing hurdles are overcome.​