The European Parliament’s chief negotiator and Belgian politician, Guy Verhofstadt, said today that David Davis’ comments were “unacceptable,” and endangered Brexit talks. 

At the weekend, the British Brexit secretary commented on the legality of the Brexit deal and stated that the UK’s agreement was only a “statement of intent,” and not something that can be enforced by law.

After Davis made these remarks to the BBC, the Irish government warned that “Both Ireland and the EU will be holding the UK to the phase one agreement.” The agreement which covered the EU’s important priorities on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill was signed off last week and is the starting point for EU leaders to discuss and approve the UK’s entry into the second phase of the Brexit talks.

Davis’ comments, along with reports that the government considers promises revolving around regulatory alignment as “meaningless,” have wounded the government’s trustworthiness. One diplomat said that “To say we are annoyed [with Davis’ comments] is putting it too strongly, though,” but another official said that “It's never good when someone questions an agreement 24 hours after it was done."

Brussels’ reaction

EU ministers are now drafting the guidelines for phase 2 of the Brexit talks to be discussed on Friday morning. This draft depends on the commitment that phase 1’s demands and promises are kept intact and are not questioned. But Verhofstadt has now said that member states will adopt a tougher stance and alter their guidelines about phase 2 of the talks. Today, EU ministers meeting in Brussels will discuss the text before EU leaders meet on Friday morning. According to leaked copies of the latest document, talks about trade will commence after an EU leaders’ summit in March.

Verhofstadt said: “It is clear that the European council will be more strict [sic] now. It is saying: ‘Yeah, OK, these are our intentions, our commitments, we want these commitments translated into legal text before we make progress in the second stage.’ That is now the position of the council. I have seen a hardening of the position of the council and there will be a hardening of the position of the parliament.”

On Wednesday, two amendments tabled by Verhofstadt will be debated by MEPs. The first one says that Davis’ comments endanger “the good faith that has been built during the negotiations.” The second amendment asks from Britain to “respect” the Brexit deal from last week and that it is “translated” into a draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Regarding the amendments, Verhofstadt said: “We will introduce amendments concerning the - for us - unacceptable description by David Davis of this agreement, saying it was merely a statement of intent rather than a legally enforceable text. And in our opinion that is really undermining the trust that is necessary in such negotiations.”

Theresa May's spokesman said, in response to Verhofstadt's comments: "The Secretary of State set out yesterday - and the commission agreed with him - that the agreement that was reached last week is a political agreement but that will move forward into a Withdrawal Agreement which will be legally binding." He said that Davis and the prime minister were committed to the idea that there won’t be a hard border in Ireland.  

The European Parliament will be updated by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Wednesday, before the EU summit in Brussels on 14-15 December. It is expected that EU leaders will give the go ahead for Britain to move on to the next phase of negotiations with the EU.