Former Brexit secretary David Davis was mocked and criticised by Brussels figures during torturous EU exit negotiations, with one adviser suggesting he did not “give a f**k” about the Irish border, a new documentary reveals.
The BBC Four behind-the-scenes programme also shows EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier joking that Brexit was like trying to restore an old car, and his European Parliament counterpart Guy Verhofstadt suggesting Britain was unreliable.
The Brexit: Behind Closed Doors documentary was filmed over two years by Belgian filmmaker Lode Desmet, who followed Verhofstadt and his team during meetings with EU and UK figures.
One extraordinary scene shows Verhofstadt and his team discussing Davis’s approach to the Irish border after the pair hold talks over tea in the UK permanent residence in Brussels.
At one point, Verhofstadt’s head of office, Guillaume McLaughlin, discusses the meeting with Davis, who eventually quit as Brexit secretary in July 2018.
He says: “David Davis explained to us that Ireland is not a problem, they have got lots of control systems, they know everybody who is going in and out across the border, they have automatic... and they will take a loss in the excise duties that they are getting but it doesn’t really matter.
“So basically - ’we don’t really give a fuck what goes through our border, in any case we know who the baddies are, there might be a problem with terrorism, and if there’s a problem with terrorism that might be a problem, but okay.’”
Verhofstadt then interjects: “They’re going to find them.”
McLaughlin replies: “That was more or less what he said.”
Another aide, Edel Crosse, then adds: “So head in the fucking clouds.”
In another scene, Verhofstadt has breakfast with Barnier and recounts meeting Davis at the Silverstone Classic motor race of 2017.
As Verhofstadt brandishes a photograph of the 1954 Aston Martin he drove in the race, Barnier jokes: “That’s what they’re trying to do with Brexit, take an old car and restore it.”
In a separate meeting between Barnier and the Verhofstadt’s European Parliament Brexit steering group, senior EU figures are seen mocking the UK and calling for a hardball approach to negotiations after Theresa May lost her Commons majority in the disastrous 2017 snap election.
At one point, Barnier questions who the UK’s chief negotiator is, Davis or civil servant Olly Robbins, stressing the EU wants someone “available, stable...”, before another member adds “and reliable”.
Verhofstadt then jokes: “We can’t ask too much of the British, don’t overdo it.”
German MEP Elmar Brock, a close ally of Angela Merkel, then cautions the EU against helping the UK out of its “mess” by giving ground in negotiations.
“That would be tactically totally a wrong decision, but the temptation to do so will become very high.
“I am very clear we have to do nothing. We are ready and they have to come.
“And we have to wait while the air becomes thinner and thinner because we lose time.”
The documentary is likely to be seized upon by Remainers as evidence of the government’s bungling of talks with the EU, and Leavers as an illustration of Brussels’ desire to punish Britain.