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Brexit chief Davis 'pretty sure' free EU trade deal can be secured

By Shaun Connolly

It is not certain the UK will secure an EU withdrawal deal, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said.

Mr Davis said he was "pretty sure" an agreement could be struck but left the door open to leaving the bloc without one.

The Brexit Secretary said that no deal "would be better than a punishment deal".

The remarks come after Chancellor Philip Hammond said that no deal would be "very, very bad" for the UK.

Asked if he was sure there would be a deal cut, Mr Davis told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I'm pretty sure, I am not 100% sure, you can never be, it's a negotiation.

"I'm sure there will be a deal, whether it's the deal I want, which is a free trade agreement, the customs agreement, and so on, I'm pretty sure, but I'm not certain."

Mr Davis said part of his portfolio was planning for a bad outcome.

He said: "We cannot have a circumstance where the other side says that they are going to punish you. So, if that happens then there is a walkaway, and we have to plan for that.

"Half my job is the invisible job of actually planning for all outcomes."

Asked if he agreed with the Chancellor that no deal would be very bad, Mr Davis said: "It would be better than a punishment deal.

"I'm being very clear about this. In my job, I don't think out loud, I don't make guesses. I try to make decisions, you make those based on the data."

Mr Davis said Britain would need transitional trade arrangements with the EU for a time after Brexit.

He said: "We think that there will be a transitional period. I think one to two years is more likely. It will vary.

"This is something incredibly practical."

Mr Davis said the UK would be looking to continue the European health insurance card (EHIC) initiative that ensures free medical care abroad.

He said: "We're looking to see if we can get a continuation of the EHIC scheme as it now exists. And if we can't get one then we will provide one unilaterally."

Mr Davis said Government plans for dealing with the status of the 3.2 million EU nationals in the UK would not make them "second class" citizens but give them "effectively British citizenship rights". They get the same residence rights, the same employment rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pensions rights and so on, almost the equivalent to British citizens. The only thing they don't get is the right to vote."

Mr Davis said the cut-off point for when EU nationals would have had to be resident in the UK to be eligible for the scheme has yet to be decided but will fall somewhere between Article 50 being triggered last March, and Britain's leaving date of March 2019.

Asked what his counterpart in the Brexit negotiations, Michel Barnier, was like, Mr Davis said: "Well, he's very French. Oh, he's very grand. He's very elegant."

Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke said the election outcome would put pressure on Mrs May to compromise on Brexit.

He told Sky News: "Any three members of Parliament, or, perhaps, half a dozen, certainly, are their party's majority. But that puts pressure on people to actually reach some compromises and reunite the party. We are very divided on Europe."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "David Davis inspires about as much confidence as a drunken trapeze artist. But it is the country as a whole that will suffer when he comes crashing to the floor."

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