David Davis has joked that he does not have to be “very clever” to do his job as Brexit secretary.
Speaking to LBC on Monday morning, Davis admitted the initial failure to secure a EU exit deal last week did “test the calmness a little bit”.
“What’s the requirement of my job? I don’t have to be very clever. I don’t have to know that much. I just do have to be calm,” he said.
The Brexit secretary also said “anyone can do details” when asked if he would need to remain in post after 2019 to handle the transition period.
Theresa May’s first attempt to sign a deal with Brussels was scuppered after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government, objected to plan. The prime minister eventually brought the Northern Ireland party onside in order to reach an agreement on Friday.
Davis also moved to clarify comments he made on Sunday about the Northern Ireland border - one of the main sticking points in the negotiations.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that the deal to keep the Irish border open was “much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing”.
But he told LBC today that newspaper reports of his comments were “twisted” out of context.
“I said this was a statement of intent which was much more than just legally enforceable,” he said.
“In other words, of course it is legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement. But even if that did not happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless, invisible border with Ireland.”
The Irish government responded strongly to Davis’ initial comment, stating the deal was “binding” and it would hold the UK “to account” on it.
According to Sky News, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said he was “delighted” that Davis appeared to have backtracked.
Simon Coveney, the deputy prime minister of Ireland, said Davis’ comments on LBC were a “welcome clarification”.
Davis also said Philip Hammond “slightly misspoke” when the Chancellor said the UK would pay a £39bn exit bill even if the EU fails to agree a new trade deal.
“This whole payment is contingent upon a deal,” the Brexit secretary said. Asked if Hammond was wrong, Davis said: “Yeah. I am afraid the chancellor slightly misspoke.”