UK Brexit Minister says border pledge not legally binding

David Davis says the agreement was simply a "statement of intent”

UK Brexit Minister says border pledge not legally binding

British Brexit Secretary David Davis speaks during a press conference with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, 10-11-2017. Image: Ye Pingfan/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator has claimed this week’s deal on the Irish border was a “statement of intent” rather than a binding agreement.

David Davis told BBC television the agreement will not be “legally enforceable” if talks on a future trade deal collapse.

He insisted however, that the UK would work towards keeping a “frictionless and invisible” border adding that lawmakers would “find a way” to ensure it remains that way if the UK walks away from the next phase of talks without a deal.

The Government views Friday’s Brexit deal as ‘politically bulletproof’ and believes it guarantees there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland.

Announcing the agreement, the Taoiseach said the guarantee was ‘rock solid and cast iron’ - adding that it was “an overarching requirement with which any future arrangements much be compatible.”

"There will be no physical infrastructure or related checks or controls," he said.


On Newstalk’s On the Record this morning, security analyst Declan Power said there are “shades of the Good Friday Agreement” at play - with enough ambiguity in the text to keep everybody happy for now:

“When the Good Friday Agreement was explained, it depended on who was explaining it and what they emphasised,” he said.

“So far with this agreement, what we have is something that if you want to emphasise it from a unionist point of view, you can say, ‘oh well the unionists say’ - or from a Brexit point of view or from an Irish point of view.

“There is something in there for everybody.

“It is a fudge. Nobody really knows really how it will play out until the next phase.”


He said Europe’s stance in the talks shows that the EU now realises “just how ridiculously difficult it would have been to apply a border.”

“Whatever else happens in the negotiating - good, bad or indifferent – the EU community now realise the reality of the Irish border,” he said.

“I think that has been a big step forward.

“If - worst case scenario - the Brits crashed out, our European partners and neighbours realise well we can’t inflict this on the Irish now.”

Phase Two

The Taoiseach has admitted that relations between Ireland and Britain have been “strained” by the recent negotiations – however Mr Power said the next phase could see Ireland “switch sides.”

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that Britain will have no greater friend than Ireland in the next phase of talks – as negotiators try to hammer out Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU.

Bilateral trade between Ireland and Britain is worth €65bn and - while some in Europe may aim to extract some form ‘revenge’ on the UK for its decision to leave - a comprehensive and decent trade deal will be crucial for the Irish economy.

“It suited the EU as well to take the stance we took,” said Mr Power.

“We have lost a major ally in Europe when Britain leaves, that is for sure.

“Britain was a major ally to ourselves the Scandinavians and the Dutch, now they are gone we can’t just continue to think that Europe will always have our interests at heart.

“There is the possibility, within the next five years or so, we could find ourselves being bullied into situations - maybe about our taxation regime - and we need to keep open minded and fluid our system of alliances and how we do it."

No deal

In his BBC interview Brexit Minister Davis said the odds of Britain leaving the bloc without a deal had "dropped dramatically" following Friday's agreement.

He warned however that the UK would refuse to pay its “divorce bill” – believed to be worth between €45 - €50bn – if no deal was reached.

The British Chancellor Philip Hammond has previously said the bill would be paid regardless of the outcome of the talks.