The UK and European Union are on course for a major clash over the structure of Brexit negotiations and the details of a deal on citizens’ rights, David Davis has indicated.
The Brexit Secretary rejected Brussels’ demands for the UK’s fee for exiting the bloc and the tricky issue of the Irish border to be included in the first stage of talks.
And he insisted that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would not have a role in adjudicating disputes over the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, setting up an early showdown in the negotiations.
On ITV’s Peston On Sunday Mr Davis acknowledged there would be a “row” over the sequencing of the talks, with the UK insisting that discussions on a trade deal must feature at an early stage.
Mr Davis indicated he was optimistic that an early deal could be reached on citizens’ rights but said he took offence at the suggestion that UK courts could not rule on any disputes.
“There will be arguments over fine detail. Like whether the European Court of Justice oversees these rights after we have left,” he said. “We will have an argument about that.”
The UK was not prepared to accept the involvement of the ECJ as “we are going to be outside the reach” of the Luxembourg court after Brexit.
Mr Davis also insisted it was “wholly illogical” for Brussels to argue that progress must be made on agreeing the financial settlement and Ireland before talks can progress to the UK’s future relationship – including the Government’s desired trade deal.
Indicating that there could be a legal dispute, Mr Davis said the position adopted by the EU and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier was based on a “wrong interpretation of the treaty”.
The position set out by Brussels was aimed at ensuring “the negotiating pressure is on us – that’s why it is designed this way” with “the most difficult bit, the funding and Northern Ireland” established as hurdles to be crossed before trade talks can begin.
Mr Davis said: “How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what the free trade agreement is, whether you need to charge tariffs at the border or not? You can’t decide one without the other.”
Negotiations on the structure of the talks “will be the row of the summer”, Mr Davis predicted.
While the preferred outcome was for a comprehensive trade deal taking in “all products and all services”, the UK had to retain the option of walking away if unacceptable conditions were on the table.
Mr Davis said the General Election would give Theresa May the mandate for Brexit on her terms – leaving the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the ECJ.
Rejecting as “propaganda” the terms “hard” and “soft” Brexit, Mr Davis insisted that quitting the single market was “what the public voted for” in the 2016 referendum.
An increased Tory majority was needed because in Parliament there were a “significant number of people who say they accept the referendum but actually try at every turn to tie the hands of the negotiators”.