Make EU gentleman's agreement with Britain binding - EU lawmakers

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament will insist on quickly making the deal reached between the European Union and Britain on divorce terms legally binding, worried London may not honour a gentleman’s agreement, the parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator said.

The EU and Britain, which is will leave the EU in March 2019, agreed last Friday on the divorce terms in three key areas -- a financial settlement, citizens’ rights and how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The European Commission said on Monday the deal was not legally binding yet, but it regarded it “as a deal between gentlemen” with “the clear understanding that it is fully backed and endorsed by the UK government”.

But Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said on Sunday that the deal, which allows both sides to start talks on a future trade agreement crucial for Britain, was more of a “statement of intent” than a legally binding measure.

This caused concern among EU officials that London may want to go back on the agreement.

“Remarks by David Davis that Phase One deal last week not binding were unhelpful and undermines trust. European Parliament text will now reflect this and insist agreement translated into legal text as soon as possible,” Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the European Parliament Brexit coordination team, tweeted.

He said that after Davis’s “unacceptable remarks”, the European Parliament will ask EU leaders meeting on Brexit on Friday to formally make negotiations on a future trade agreement with London conditional on including the agreement so far in full in the treaty on Britain leaving the EU.

A draft text which leaders are set to adopt on Friday already states that “negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible”.

Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Alastair Macdonald