Davis has damaged trust for Brexit talks, says Verhofstadt

EU hardens position by insisting British commitments are turned into legal text

David Davis's claim that the UK's concessions in an agreement to move on the Brexit negotiations were merely a statement of intent has damaged trust and will see a hardening of positions in Brussels, the European Parliament's co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, has said.

The former Belgian prime minister claimed the British Brexit secretary’s comments over the weekend about the Irish border agreement were “unacceptable”, and undermined confidence in the British government’s trustworthiness.

The member states will now agree a tougher wording in their guidelines about the next stage of the talks, due to be signed off at a summit of leaders on Friday, Mr Verhofstadt said.

EU ministers are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the text to be put before leaders on Friday morning. "As someone said, it's an own goal," Mr Verhofstadt said. "It is clear that the European Council will be more strict now. It is saying, 'Yeah, okay, these are our intentions, our commitments, we want these commitments translated into legal text before we make progress in the second stage.' That is now the position of the council. I have seen a hardening of the position of the council and there will be a hardening of the position of the parliament."


The European Parliament is to vote on a draft resolution on Wednesday and this will also be amended so as to condemn the comments and demand swift legal assurances from the UK, he added. The proposed amendments claim that in "calling the outcome of phase one of the negotiations a mere 'statement of intent'", Mr Davis's intervention threatened "to undermine the good faith that has been built during thenegotiations".

They add that “the negotiations must be conducted in good faith – negotiations can only progress during the second phase if the UK government also fully respects the commitments it made – and they are fully translated into the draft withdrawal agreement”.

Mr Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament, said: "We will introduce amendments concerning the for us – unacceptable description by David Davis of this agreement, saying it was merely a statement of intent rather than a legally enforceable text. And in our opinion that is really undermining the trust that is necessary in such negotiations."

‘Full alignment’

Mr Davis's comments had come on Sunday in response to reports that some hardline Brexiters in the UK had been assured by the British government that assurances that Northern Ireland would maintain "full alignment" with EU law in future were meaningless.

The Brexit secretary explained that the joint agreement struck with the European Commission on the Border, citizens' rights and the financial settlement was "more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing".

The comments caused consternation in Dublin and prompted the European Commission to remind the prime minister in a statement that she had “shaken hands” on a “gentlemen’s agreement” last Friday.

Mr Davis subsequently told LBC radio on Monday that his comments had been misinterpreted and twisted. “I said this was a statement of intent, which was much more than just legally enforceable,” he said. “Of course it’s legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement, but even if that didn’t happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless, invisible border with Ireland.

“I was making the point it was much more than what’s just in the treaty, it’s what we want to do anyway.” – Guardian