Davis dramatically quit on Sunday over a plan for Britain to keep strong economic ties with the EU even after leaving in March next year, telling Prime Minister Theresa May she was giving “too much away too easily” in negotiations.
With May’s government plunged into crisis, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas was asked at a regular briefing if the sudden departure of London’s lead negotiator was a problem.
“Not for us. We’re here to work,” Schinas said, underlining the EU’s much-repeated mantra that time is running out for talks and the commission — the EU’s executive arm which is handling talks for the 27 other member countries — is “available 24/7” to try to thrash out a deal.
Schinas said that the EU “will continue to negotiate in goodwill, bona fide, with Prime Minister May and the UK negotiators in order to reach a deal.”
May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker spoke by telephone on Sunday evening, several hours before Davis stepped down, to discuss May’s plans, Schinas added.
Davis stepped down as he was unhappy at May’s proposal for Brexit, agreed with her deeply divided cabinet in crunch talks at her official country retreat on Friday, which would see Britain adopt EU rules on goods after Brexit.
He is replaced by Dominic Raab, a eurosceptic junior housing minister little known in Brussels.
Schinas insisted it made little difference to the EU who was leading the talks for Britain.
“It matters a lot for the UK side because this is the person that would be the counterpart for our chief negotiator and I think that matters a lot,” Schinas said.
“What matters for us is the negotiating mandate that our 27 member states have set for us and to which we are complying fully.”
There was no immediate reaction from Davis’s opposite number in the EU, Frenchman Michel Barnier.
But the chief Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, said he had “enjoyed the cooperation with David Davis.”
Former Belgian premier Verhofstadt called for Britain to unite around a softer Brexit, adding: “It is in the interest of both that we move the negotiations forward.” DM