The UK must legislate phase one agreement before trade talks can begin

ANDY RAIN

British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis arrives for a first cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, Britain, 06 September 2016.

The UK must legislate phase one agreement before trade talks can begin


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Trade talks between Brussels and London have been called into question as Brexit Secretary David Davis called last Friday’s British commitments to Brussels a “statement of intend” rather than legal obligation.

Last Friday, the UK committed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in March 2019, when the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union. Theresa May also agreed to a method for the calculation of a financial settlement – expected to be just over 50bn – and a mutual guarantee of EU citizens rights in the UK.

By Saturday, the Brexit Secretary David Davies had questioned the UK’s commitment. In an interview with the BBC, Davis said that the UK made a “statement of intend” rather than a legally binding agreement. Hence he was aligned with Michael Gove who told The Telegraph that any non-acceptable EU deal could be revoked by voters – i.e. a future government – in the future.

The reaction has been fierce. Brussels is demanding that commitments made of Friday are drafted into law and passed through the House of Commons before negotiations begin, the Times reported on Tuesday, citing an article to the agreement that explicitly said that Brexit talks “can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase {of negotiations} are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.

The European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, Michelle Barnier, warned on Tuesday that a deal with London cannot be made before March 2019. Nothing more than “a political declaration” of the future relationship can be expected, Barnier warned.

The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, tweeted on Tuesday that Davis’s “unacceptable remarks” are undermining trust between the two sides.

Theresa May appears committed to a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Reuters reports. That means that the notion of a “Canada plus” agreement that Davis believes the UK can negotiate may not be sufficient. In any event, European Commission sources appear unwilling to offer anything more than “Canada dry” and the question is whether the UK can afford a deal that does not include services.

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