Brexit ‘Fight’ Looms Over Role of European Court, U.K. Warns

  • David Davis says he’s confident, but not certain of deal
  • Says U.K. wants to guarantee citizens’ healthcare, pensions

U.K.'s Davis Says Brexit Talks Off to 'Promising Start'

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Britain is ready to “fight” the European Union’s demand that judges on the continent hold sway in the U.K. after Brexit, as Theresa May’s government warns that a final deal with the bloc is not certain. 

Brexit Secretary David Davis, in a direct challenge to officials in Brussels, said the European Court of Justice won’t have a role protecting the rights of 3.2 million EU nationals living in U.K. after the country leaves in 2019.

David Davis on June 25.

Photographer: Jeff Overs/BBC

Some other arbitration body may need to be set up to rule on disputes over the rights of EU citizens, “but it’s not going to be the European Court of Justice,” Davis said in an interview with the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “That’s where the fight comes in.”

Davis also said he is “pretty sure” a Brexit deal will be reached before time runs out but added: “I’m not 100 percent sure -- it’s a negotiation.”

The minister gave his assessment after he began talks with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels last week. With the clock ticking down to Britain’s departure on March 29, 2019, the U.K. is under pressure to reach agreements quickly.

Britain has agreed that talks on a new trading relationship can’t begin until sufficient progress has been made on issues such as citizens’ rights and the U.K.’s financial settlement, with every day’s delay making a final trade deal more difficult.

Dispute Arbitration

A key sticking point is the role of European judges in arbitrating disputes, which the EU sees as an essential protection for its citizens. The U.K. has ruled out giving any powers to the ECJ after Brexit -- a position Davis underlined on Sunday.

May outlined her broad offer on citizens’ rights at a summit of EU leaders last week and her government will publish a 15-page document setting out the details on Monday.

“What we have set out to do is to create a status almost equivalent to the same as British citizens,” Davis said. “They get the same residence rights, the same employment rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pension rights.”

Britain is ready to make unilateral guarantees on the indexation of EU nationals’ pensions, while also promising free healthcare to Europeans living in Britain, Davis said.

These rights will be protected for those living legally in the U.K. at least before the prime minister triggered the start of the Brexit process on March 29, he said. The final cut-off date will be subject to negotiation, Davis added, as the EU wants to protect the rights of all nationals residing in Britain on the day the country leaves in 2019.

In the interview, Davis also gave a candid description of Barnier. “He’s very French,” he said. “He is very grand” and also “very elegant,” the minister added. “He wants a deal as much as we want a deal, I think.”

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