Brexit border deal: Legally binding or just ‘statement of intent’?

There have been considerable ructions and uncertainty over Britain’s exit plans from the EU over the weekend following comments made by the UK Brexit secretary David Davis, describing the UK government’s promise in Friday’s agreement to prevent any return to a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit as “much more a statement of intent than a legally-enforceable thing”.

The deal reached by the UK and the EU saw both sides agree that will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which allowed “sufficient progress” to move onto the next round of Brexit negotiations.

Davis made the comments during an appearance on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One yesterday morning; he also stated that if no overall trade deal was agreed the UK would not pay the ‘divorce payment’ of £35-39 billion, also agreed in last week’s negotiations.

On the same programme, the Brexit secretary claimed to be seeking an ambitious trade deal – similar to that agreed between the EU and Canada recently. He said: “We’ll probably start with the best of Canada, and the best of Japan and the best of South Korea and then add to that the bits that are missing, which is the [financial] services.”

Davis has since said that his comments on the border issue from the television appearance were “taken out of context”, saying: “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.

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire has also reinforced this on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One this morning, stating: “The legal effect is given by way of the withdrawal agreement.”

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce today that she expects EU leaders to agree to move on to the next phase of negotiations at a European summit on Thursday.

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