UK hopes for Irish help to secure EU Brexit trade deal

David Davis says next phase of talks with EU will offer scope to resolve Border issues

Brexit secretary David Davis gives evidence to the European Union select committee in the House of Lords on Monday. Photograph: PA Wire

Brexit secretary David Davis gives evidence to the European Union select committee in the House of Lords on Monday. Photograph: PA Wire


Britain hopes that Ireland will support its bid for a comprehensive free-trade agreement in return for co-operation on North-South issues, Brexit secretary David Davis has said. Mr Davis told the House of Lords European Union committee a specific strand on Ireland in the next phase of negotiations with the EU will offer a chance to clarify issues surrounding the Border.

“We’ll talk to the [European] Commission and to the Irish Government about how we make sure that those North-South strands work, about the technical aspects of it as well. And hopefully – I mean, I don’t know, they’re a sovereign country, it’s their call – but hopefully, in return they will be supportive of our aim for a simple, comprehensive free-trade agreement and a very good customs arrangement,” he said.

Britain agreed with the EU last month that, if no other solution was found to prevent a return to a hard border after Brexit, it would maintain “full alignment” with those rules of the single market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 agreement.

Legally binding text

The two sides are working on a legally binding text for that agreement but Mr Davis said on Monday that the promise of alignment referred to outcomes rather than the rules themselves.

“Full alignment is really about alignment of outcomes, of regulatory outcomes. And this relates particularly to the North-South arrangements,” he said.

“There are half a dozen specific areas, one of which is agriculture, which would be the most important. Another one is the environment, which basically in this context means waterways. Another one is transport, which in this context means road and rail. And in each of those areas we would seek alignment of outcomes.”

Mr Davis said that, although Britain and the EU would enjoy full regulatory alignment at the moment of Brexit, they could diverge as time went on. He predicted, however, that such divergence would not prevent the two parts of Ireland reaching the same outcomes by way of different rules.

Animal welfare

“In 10 or more years’ time, there’d be no point in us seeking to reduce animal welfare or seeking to reduce the safety of the foods being consumed by citizens in the North or the South of the island. I don’t see there’s a problem there in alignment of outcomes. Similarly on issues of transport, I do not see any issue where we are going to do anything other than seek high safety levels and high quality outcomes in emissions standards,” he said.

In Brussels on Monday, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the UK will not be able to block or refuse to implement new EU laws of which it disapproves during its transition from the bloc.

He was speaking after foreign ministers backed plans for the transition phase once the UK leaves the EU at the end of March next year.

During the 21-month transition, the UK will enjoy all the rights of EU membership – other than decision-making – and will be required to honour all obligations.