David Davis seeks to clarify comments about Brexit deal

British minister says ‘legally enforcable’ claims had been ‘completely twisted’

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 commitment to maintaining a soft Irish Border after Brexit is “much more than legally enforceable”, David Davis has said, insisting his comments to the contrary had been “twisted”.

The Brexit Secretary said the UK would seek to maintain a “frictionless, invisible” border between Northern Ireland and the Republic even if Friday’s agreement to allow trade talks to start collapses in the event of a “no deal” Brexit.

His said on Sunday that the plans were a “statement of intent more than anything else. Much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing.”

This was branded “bizarre” by the Irish Government, which insisted an agreement that the UK will have “full alignment” with the EU on issues that impact on Northern Ireland was “binding”.

But Mr Davis claimed on Monday his words had been “completely twisted”.

He told LBC Radio: “What I actually said yesterday in terms was we want to protect the peace process, want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them, and I said this was a statement of intent which was much more than just legally enforceable.

“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.”

Symbolic

Mr Davis went on: “What we’re saying is this bit of it, the bit about the full alignment argument on the issues which affect the peace process in the Belfast Agreement, we would look to that anyway because one of our absolute underpinning aims is to ensure that Ireland and particularly the Northern Ireland peace process is not harmed.

“And what’s most symbolic in that is the absence of a hard border, the absence of border posts and that sort of thing.

“And we are quite certain we can do that by technical and other means even if we end up without a deal with the European Union. ”

Asked why he said the soft Irish Border deal was a statement of intent, Mr Davis replied: “Because it’s more than legally enforceable.

“In the event that the withdrawal agreement doesn’t happen then we would still be seeking to maintain an invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, that was the point. I was making the point it was much more than just in the treaty, it’s what we want to do anyway.”

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is “very happy” Mr Davis has clarified his comments on the agreement.

Minister for Health Simon Harris also said Ireland expected the British government to honour the deal. He said it was important to point out that it was not a deal between Ireland and the UK but “European-wide agreement that we expect the UK to honour”.

Smuggling

Mr Davis dismissed concerns that a soft border between the UK and EU on the island of Ireland could encourage people smuggling.

“That would be a very hard way to get into Britain, you’d have to be a fairly dumb people smuggler to come in that way,” he said.

“Something like 50 million people go through the country every year - tourists and so on - you go to Heathrow, look at it, there’s huge numbers of people, it’s much simpler to come in and pretend you’re a tourist than to take a sort of elliptical route like that.”

The Brexit Secretary said the UK would have talks with the Irish Government about sharing security data to ensure illegal immigrants do not exploit the soft border.

The dispute between Dublin and London emerged as Mrs May was chairing the first Cabinet meeting on Monday since her pre-dawn dash to Brussels to agree a way forward with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last week.