Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that there can be no going back on commitments made during the first stage of talks.
Speaking to MEP’s in Strasbourg this morning, Michel Barnier warned that the deal reached last week had been “noted and recorded” and would be translated into a legally binding agreement.
He said the agreements on the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the so-called Brexit-bill were the conditions for continuing negotiations in a smooth fashion.
He made the comments before MEPs voted in favour of resolution to allow Brexit negotiations to progress to the second phase.
The decision was passed by a majority of 556 to 56.
Statement of intent
It comes after Britain’s Brexit Minister David Davis suggested the landmark agreement reached last Friday was a “statement of intent” rather than a binding agreement.
Speaking on BBC television, Mr Davis said the UK would work towards avoiding a hard border in Ireland – but warned the agreement would not be legally enforceable if trade talks collapsed.
His comments did not go down well in Europe and prompted a swift rebuke from the Irish Government.
A government statement on Sunday warned that Ireland and Europe would hold the UK to the agreement.
No going back
Speaking in Strasbourg this morning, Mr Barnier echoed that sentiment:
"We will not accept any going back on this sufficient progress,” he said.
“This progress has been noted and recorded and is going to be translated into a an agreement that is legally binding in all three areas and on some others that remain to be negotiated.
"These are conditions for continuing with the negotiations in a smooth way.”
He said Ireland would be prioritised with its own special strand in the second phase of negotiations, adding “everyone is going to have to work towards a specific solution for a unique situation."
He noted that the European Commission would never allow any concessions on citizens’ rights or the Irish border.
MEPs are set to vote this afternoon on whether “sufficient progress” has been made to allow the second phase of talks to begin.
It is believed the final package members will be asked to vote on will include a demand that the UK government provides a firm commitment to honour the promises made last week.
The decision will also include a formal criticism of Mr Davis’ comments.
Mr Barnier noted that the negotiations have been tough as they deal with extremely complicated issues.
Responding to criticisms of the British Prime Minister, he said Theresa May was “courageous and responsible” adding, “I certainly respect her.”
Meanwhile the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt told the parliament that the EU would stand behind Ireland, warning that the country, “cannot become the collateral damage of Brexit.”
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 13, 2017
He said he talked with Mr Davis by phone and had been assured it is “absolutely not his intention” nor the intention of the UK Government to backtrack on last week’s agreement.
He said the best way to secure the agreement is to “transpose all these commitments into the legal text of a withdrawal agreement” within the coming weeks.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 12, 2017
In London, Theresa May is facing a potentially humiliating defeat as MPs prepare to vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill.
As many as 20 of her colleagues could defy her by voting in favour of an amendment calling for a "meaningful" vote on any final Brexit deal.