EU must keep trust at ‘high level’ to ensure UK fulfils Brexit deal

Hungary’s EU commissioner says mutual goodwill needed to make deal legally binding

EU negotiators must maintain trust "at a high level" to ensure the United Kingdom fulfils the commitments it made in last week's Brexit deal, Hungary's EU commissioner has said.

Tibor Navracsics, the commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, told The Irish Times during a visit to Dublin on Wednesday that the agreement on citizens' rights, the Brexit divorce bill and the future of the Border can only become a legally binding agreement if both sides show enough goodwill in negotiations.

“It is only up to the mutual goodwill of the negotiating partners,” he said. “The EU showed its goodwill and I hope that the United Kingdom will also show it so in the implementation in this case. If there is a mutual goodwill, it will not be problematic.”

Mr Navracsics was speaking shortly after Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, told the European Parliament there would be "no going back" on last week's agreement after the UK's Brexit minister David Davis called the deal a statement of intent rather than a firm commitment.


“I am sure that from the EU side there is a trust but of course we have to keep this trust level at a high level just to implement those parts of the negotiations,” Mr Navracsics said.

The former Hungarian deputy prime minister was speaking after answering questions at a forum called the Citizens' Dialogue on the Future of Europe at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

He defended the commission’s decision to block UK cities from becoming the 2023 European Capital of Culture in light of the country’s decision to quit the EU in 2019.

The UK had been scheduled to have one of its cities designated the European Capital of Culture in 2023 but the London government expressed disappointment at the commission ruling out any UK applicants after Belfast, Derry and Strabane submitted bids.

“Our problem is that legally the European Capital of Culture project is open for the EU members, for the candidate countries [those seeking to become member of the EU] and for the European economic area member states,” he said.

"The United Kingdom prospectively will not be a member of any of those formations in 2023 so that is why the European Commission made this decision."

In a discussion at the forum, Mr Navracsics said there was “a link of affection” missing between EU institutions and its citizens and that “broadening the emotional appeal of the EU” would be a painful process, but Brexit could be “a very useful conflict from this point of view”.

“It will not work without any pain because just as nations are born in civil wars, in wars, in conflicts, these political conflicts can forge a feeling of community and an atmosphere of belonging,” he said.

Pensioners in the UK who voted for Brexit and believed the EU was only “a technocratic construction that had no influence on their lives” would feel the effects of leaving the EU, he said.

“That could be the first emotional moment of keeping the European integration in the memories and the hearts of the citizens.”

Speaking at the event, Helen McEntee, the Minister of State for European Affairs, said Brexit gave the EU a “renewed sense of purpose . . . to make Europe work better for its citizens”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times