David Davis has said he doesn’t have to be “very clever” or “know that much” to do his job.
The Brexit secretary said that his roles requires him to “be calm”, although noted that last week’s calamitous negotiations “did test the calmness a little bit.”
The Conservative minister was speaking to LBC Radio as he attempted to diffuse an escalating row over the Irish border deal.
He said that his comments were misunderstood when he described the preliminary deal with Brussels as a ‘statement of intent’.
The promise, which involves an expected payment of around £39bn, includes “full alignment” with the EU on issues that affect Northern Ireland.
“I said this was a statement of intent, which was much more than just legally enforceable,” Davis told LBC today.
“Of course it’s legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement, but even if that didn’t happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless, invisible border with Ireland.
“I was making the point it was much more than what’s just in the treaty, it’s what we want to do anyway.”
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said he regarded this statement as “politically bulletproof” and “cast iron”.
Davis also risks provoking another row with Phillip Hammond, as he said the chancellor “slightly mis-spoke” when he said Britain will be forced to pay the divorce bill even in the event of no deal scenario.
Last week, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said it was “inconceivable” that Britain would not settle the exit payment.
But Davis said: “It is conditional on getting an implementation period. Conditional on a trade outcome. No deal means that we won’t be paying the money.”
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Theresa May is today expected to say that there is a “new sense of optimism” in Brexit talks — despite warning that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
The prime minister is expected to say: “This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit… there is, I believe, a new sense of optimism now in the talks and I fully hope and expect that we will confirm the arrangements I have set out today in the European Council later this week.”
Helen McEntee, the Irish European affairs minister, said: “What was agreed on Friday, as far as we are concerned and as far as the rest of the [EU] are concerned, is what will happen,” she said.
A government source told The Times: “There is no question of our commitment to the text of the joint report.
“Ministers, the Irish government and the European Commission all agree that it is the Withdrawal Agreement itself which has status in law.”
“We can move on to building the bold new economic and security relationships that can underpin the new deep and special partnership we all want to see – a partnership between the European Union and a sovereign United Kingdom that has taken control of its borders, money and laws once again,” May is expected to say today.