EU deal ‘more a statement of intent than a legally enforceable thing’

David Davis (left), Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, on the BBC One current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show, December 10, 2017
David Davis (left), Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, on the BBC One current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show, December 10, 2017

Brexit secretary David Davis has appeared to describe the wording of Friday’s hard-fought EU-UK deal as being merely a “statement of intent”, rather than a binding commitment.

The cabinet heavyweight also insisted the deal made the prospect of the UK quitting the EU without a trade agreement, leading to the UK being forced back into World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariff arrangements after withdrawal, much less likely.

The Brexit Secretary told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “The odds, as it were, against a WTO, or no-deal outcome, have dropped dramatically.”

Mr Davis also insisted Britain will not pay a £39billion exit bill to Brussels unless there is a trade deal.

The comments appeared to contradict those of chancellor Philip Hammond who has said it would be “inconceivable” the UK would fail to honour its international obligations.

Brexit secretary Mr Davis also moved to calm fears of hardline Leave advocates who were alarmed by a section of the EU-UK agreement which said Britain would have “full alignment” with the EU on regulations and standards that impact on Northern Ireland, if no agreed solutions are found.

Mr Davis insisted the phrase had been changed from “non-divergence” which would have meant “cutting and pasting” rules from Brussels.

The Brexit Secretary said full alignment meant reaching similar outcomes, stating: “We want to protect the peace process and we also want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them.

“This was a statement of intent more than anything else. Much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing.”

The comments came after reports that some hardline Brexiteers had been assured by the Government that the term full alignment was “meaningless”.

Mr Davis’s stance is likely to raise eyebrows in Dublin after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Britain’s commitments to ensure no return to a hard border as “politically bullet-proof” and “cast iron”.

The Brexit Secretary insisted the UK would keep a “frictionless” border with the Irish Republic even if there was no trade deal.

Pressed on the Chancellor’s remarks regarding the exit payment, Mr Davis said: “No. It is conditional on an outcome. I am afraid that wasn’t quite right.

“It is conditional on getting an implementation period. Conditional on a trade outcome. No deal means that we won’t be paying the money.”