Brexit deal is not a binding commitment, says Davis

‘It was much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing’

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Britain's Brexit minister David Davis has said that the British government wants to "protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit." Video: BBC


Britain’s promise of full alignment of regulations to avoid a hard border is a political statement rather than a binding commitment, Brexit secretary David Davis has said.

Mr Davis’s statement was the latest from the British government to play down the implications of Friday’s agreement with the European Commission.

“This was a statement of intent more than anything else. It was much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Within hours of British prime minister Theresa May’s meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Mr Davis’s department said that full alignment would only apply to a limited number of sectors identified in the Belfast Agreement if Britain leaves the EU without a free trade deal.

“I think if we don’t get a deal we’re going to have to find a way of making sure we keep the open frictionless Border – as it were, an invisible Border – in Northern Ireland.

“We do it at the moment. Understand something – at the moment there are different tax and levy regimes and excise regimes north and south of the Border. We manage that without having Border posts allotted along the 300 roads there, and we will find a way of doing that,” Mr Davis said on Sunday.

London has insisted that the commitments made on Friday will not prevent the UK from leaving the single market and the customs union when it leaves the EU.

Bespoke outcome

But Mr Davis acknowledged that a “no-deal” Brexit was now less likely than before, adding that he hoped for a free trade deal that would give Britain greater access to the EU market than Canada enjoys.

“Canada plus plus plus would be one way of putting it…What we want is a bespoke outcome. We’ll probably start with the best of Canada, and the best of Japan and the best of South Korea and then add to that the bit that’s missing, which is the services.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the party wanted an arrangement closer to that enjoyed by Norway, which also meant continued alignment of regulations and standards with the EU.

“What underpins access to the single market and customs union is a level playing field – if you want the benefits you have to stay on the same level playing field. The Labour party doesn’t have a problem with that. We don’t want to deregulate.

“We don’t want to cut workplace, environmental rights. We are very comfortable staying on a level playing field.”

An EU summit this week is expected to agree to move Brexit talks on to the next phase which will focus on the future trade relationship and a transition period during which trading conditions will remain unchanged.

Transition deal

A German newspaper reported on Sunday, however, that the European Parliament will make any Brexit transition deal conditional on UK agreeing to abide by EU rules in important areas after transition ends.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said MEPs will introduce a motion this week saying that there will be no transition unless UK and EU agree a withdrawal treaty which commits UK to following EU rules in key areas after transition ends, including environment, climate change, consumer and data protection, “tax dumping” and “social dumping”.