David Davis Stresses Commitment To Soft Irish Border Amid Fresh Brexit Row

Brexit Secretary David Davis has moved to defuse a new row over Theresa May's Brexit deal, stressing that the government will not walk away from its commitment to a soft border in the island of Ireland.

On Sunday (December 10), Davis told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that a preliminary agreement reached in negotiations with Brussels on Friday on the future of the Irish border was "a statement of intent more than anything else. It was much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing."

But after The Times reported that this prompted alarm in Dublin, where the deal is considered to be binding, Davis told LBC radio on Monday morning, in quotes transcribed by The Guardian, that "What I actually said yesterday, in terms, was we want to protect the peace process, we want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them.

"And I said this was a statement of intent which was much more than just legally enforceable. In other words, of course it is legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement.

"But even if that did not happen for some reason, [if] something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless, invisible border with Ireland."

Irish premier Leo Varadkar is satisfied with Davis's remarks on Monday, according to Irish channel TV3.

Theresa May Jean-Claude Juncker Brexit Deal
(L to R) Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meet at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Theresa May will likely be forced to further clarify the government's position on Monday afternoon when she appears in the Commons for a statement on the Brexit talks.

An update on the progress of negotiations agreed between the U.K. and the EU published on the European Commission website on Friday said that "The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation [in Ireland] and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border."

It said that Britain hoped to achieve this by means of a bespoke arrangement with the European Union or via "specific solutions" to be offered up by the U.K.

But failing that, it said, "the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement."

The all-important phrase "full alignment" worries some Euroskeptics and Northern Irish unionists, who fear that Britain is committing either to a separate Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, or to a very close relationship with the EU that may scupper its ability to negotiate other trade deals.

But the government has insisted that the U.K. is committed to leaving the customs union and single market after Brexit, and that it will not compromise the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Elsewhere in the LBC interview, Davis said that he did not have to be "very clever" to do his job.

"What's a requirement of my job? I don't have to be very clever, I don't have to know that much, I do just have to be calm," Davis said. "Anybody can do details, we'll let you do the details."