Brexit Aims to Be Outlined When Article 50 Triggered, Davis Says

  • Letter to EU to include statement of objectives, minister says
  • Barnier’s name confused, Verhofstadt draws Satan reference

David Davis, the minister overseeing Britain’s exit from the European Union, said the U.K. government will outline its aims for future relations with the remaining 27 member states when it issues a letter formally triggering the process of leaving the bloc.

“I assume that letter would include a statement of what we’re trying to achieve,” Davis told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The U.K. won’t reveal many of its aims before that point because it would be a “gift to the other side” in negotiations with the EU, he said.

Facing criticism from opposition lawmakers for failure to outline how the government plans to extract Britain from the EU, Davis was setting out his strategy for the third time in front of parliamentarians in just over a week. His latest appearance comes after the upper House of Lords said on Tuesday that the withdrawal process, started by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, should require parliamentary approval.

“Before we get to the start of negotiation we’ll have an idea about what’s big, what’s small, what matters, what doesn’t,” Davis said. The government will outline some objectives for Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU for Parliament to consider “as far as we can without jeopardizing the overall aims to get the best possible deal.”

Two Years

Davis, who campaigned to leave the EU before the June 23 referendum, said on Monday the U.K. can complete negotiations on its future relationship with the bloc within the two-year time limit set out in Article 50. Any failure to reach a deal would mean the U.K. using World Trade Organization rules for its dealings with the EU, he said on Tuesday, a scenario he described as not a probable outcome. He told the committee it was possible a deal could be done in less than two years, though it’s unlikely.

In a hearing that lasted almost two hours, Davis momentarily confused the name of the man who’ll lead the EU side in talks with him, calling Michel Barnier Mr. Garnier -- the name of a fellow Conservative lawmaker. And asked about comments by the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, about the need for Britain to accept free movement of labor if it wants to stay in the EU’s single market, Davis responded: “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union will need to double staff numbers from 200, meet with business leaders and study data on how Brexit will affect the U.K. economy before Prime Minister Theresa May triggers the exit mechanism, he said. He declined to give any more specifics on when Article 50 might be invoked beyond “some time in the new year.”

Britain won’t reveal its position for dealings with the EU to ensure the country “doesn’t trip up over any unseen wires” when it opens talks to leave with the European Council, he said. That includes the U.K.’s position on passporting, which enables financial-services firms to operate throughout the trading bloc, he added.

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