EU toughens Brexit stance after 'unacceptable' comments: Verhofstadt

STRASBOURG, France: The EU has hardened its position on Brexit trade talks after "unacceptable" comments by a British minister that risk undermining negotiations, the European Parliament's pointman Guy Verhofstadt said Tuesday.

Britain's David Davis has caused alarm by saying that a deal struck in Brussels last Friday to agree separation arrangements and open talks on future relations was a "statement of intent" rather than "legally enforceable."

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, said that following Davis's remarks made on Sunday, EU leaders meeting for a summit this week would now insist on the divorce terms being legally binding.

"I have seen a hardening of the position of the council (EU leaders), and there will be a hardening position of the parliament," which will vote on a Brexit motion on Wednesday, Verhofstadt told reporters at the parliament in Strasbourg, France.

"It's clear that the European Council will be more strict now in saying... we want that these commitments are translated into legal texts before we make progress in the second phase."

The European Parliament itself was now adding two amendments to a resolution it will vote on Wednesday, including one that unusually mentions Davis by name and says his comments "risk to undermine the good faith that has been built during the negotiations."

On Sunday, Davis told the BBC Britain would not honour its £35 billion-£39 billion (RM189.86 billion euros, RM211.55 billion) divorce bill as agreed under last week's deal if it fails to secure a future EU trade agreement when it leaves in March 2019.

But the EU has said that while the text of Friday's deal sealed by British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is for now a "deal between gentlemen", it will become legally binding as part of Britain's withdrawal agreement.

Davis took a more diplomatic tone on Tuesday, saying it was a "pleasure as ever to speak to my friend Guy Verhofstadt."

"We both agreed on the importance of the Joint Report (the EU-UK deal) on Friday. Let's work together to get it converted into legal text as soon as possible," he said on Twitter.

Britain like 'gangster'

But Philippe Lamberts, the Green group's representative in the European Parliament's Brexit steering group, said Britain's attitude now would hurt its bid to reach post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.

"How can Britain be taken seriously globally if it behaves like a gangster in its international relationships?" Lamberts said.

The EU negotiating guidelines that national leaders are set to adopt in Brussels on Friday will say phase two talks can only start once the divorce commitments are "translated faithfully in legal terms," according to a draft seen by AFP.

The guidelines had been "Mr Davis-proofed", a senior EU official said.

The EU has toughened a previous draft so that it now says talks on trade will not start until March, to give the British government time to provide "further clarity" on what it wants from the future relationship. — AFP