Former Brexit secretary David Davis has rejected EU assurances over the Irish backstop, saying they are not enough and that the £39 billion divorce bill should only be paid on condition of a free trade deal with the bloc.
Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar said the European Union was willing to give “written assurances” over the backstop, the bloc hoping that would inspire MPs to support Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
“No, it won’t be enough. The reason why it won’t be enough is because it needs to be legally binding, that’s the first thing,” Mr Davis said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday.
“Secondly, this isn’t the only problem with the Theresa May-Number 10 deal,” he said, naming the divorce bill which the Tory Brexiteer insists is not binding and which does not result in the guarantee of a free trade deal with the bloc as a key issue.
“It’s a false assertion [that Britain is obliged to pay it]… The best guideline on this is the constitutional committee at the House of Lords right back at the beginning of this process, who looked and said, ‘no, this is a matter of negotiation.’
“If we sign up to the withdrawal deal, then we will be committed. Then we do have to pay.”
Mrs May’s EU exit agreement is set to be voted on next week, with Brexiteers and other MPs set to vote it down over the Irish backstop which threatens to lock Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the EU at the end of the transition period if the bloc fails to agree a deal with United Kingdom.
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Mr Davis then denied that the Withdrawal Agreement was the only deal on the table, saying that there were “already signs — [Leo Varadkar’s] comments being one of them” — that the EU were preparing to relent and renegotiate with the British government.
“The simple truth is they will hold fast to their line — this is the traditional approach of the European Commission — until the last possible minute, and then if we hold fast to our line, then they will come back and renegotiate.”
Saying that part of what the United Kingdom should demand is not just legal assurances on the backstop but “some sort of undertaking on a free trade deal” and making the £39 billion payment “conditional” on such a deal.
Mr Davis also took aim at “scare stories” being pushed by Europhiles and the establishment media.
“They are just scare stories. ‘There will be no insulin’, we know that’s not true.
“‘There will be shortages of drugs’, we know that’s not true.
“‘There will be shortages of food,’ no, there won’t… what’s happening is each of these scare stories is being knocked down.”
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He also took aim at the BBC for failing to report that nations on the continent are preparing for the United Kingdom to make a clean break from the EU, saying, “One of the things that never gets covered in the BBC coverage on this is all the French preparations that are going on.
“This all hinges around Dover-Calais, which is one potential choke point,” he explained.
“The head of French customs have said they’re going to arrange inspections arrangements that facilitate and accelerate through port.
“Indeed, other ports are saying the same. Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Antwerp — all saying the same.”