Border deal a statement of intent, says David Davis

Britain’s Brexit secretary has risked a war of words with the Government after stating the Brexit deal signed to much fanfare last week was “more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing”.

His comments came after reports that some hardline Brexiteers in the UK had been assured by the British government that the term ‘full alignment’ was “meaningless”.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Davis moved to calm fears of hardline leavers who were alarmed by a section of the agreement with Brussels which said Britain would have “full alignment” with the EU on regulations and standards that impacted on Northern Ireland.

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

He 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.”

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

Mr Davis insisted the UK would keep a “frictionless” border with the Republic even if there is no trade deal.

He told the BBC that the chances of Britain leaving the EU without a trade deal have “dropped dramatically”.

“The odds, as it were, against a WTO, or no deal outcome, have dropped dramatically,” he said.

Mr Davis also insisted Britain will not pay a £39bn (€44bn) 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.

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

“It is conditional. It is conditional on getting an implementation period. Conditional on a trade outcome.

“No deal means that we won’t be paying the money.”

When asked at a Commons treasury committee meeting last week whether Britain’s divorce bill was contingent on a trade deal, Mr Hammond said: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in this negotiation.

“But I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation.

“That is not a credible scenario. That is not the kind of country we are. Frankly, it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements.”

Mr Davis said a trade deal was “not that complicated”.

Meanwhile, former chancellor Ken Clarke said British prime minister Theresa May needs to face down the “hard-right extremist Brexiteers” in Conservative ranks.

He told the BBC: “I can’t see how we are going to get to a sensible conclusion without, eventually, facing down the ones that won’t compromise. The ones that just keep reciting nonsense.”

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