“…there will be no downside to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides”
When David Davis, the Brexit secretary, stood in the House of Commons on 10 October 2016 and uttered those words it was pure unadulterated hubris, a belief that Britain was so special it would be able to leave the EU and there would be no downsides “at all”. Not a single one.
Three months later and still under the influence, he told his colleague Anna Soubry that he was going to negotiate “a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”. It’s hard to know what – or indeed if – he was thinking at the time. He may regret saying it now.
Some may have been reassured by the Brexit secretary’s typically breezy self-confidence. However, voters are beginning to suspect they have been deliberately misled or Davis simply hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about. It’s hard to tell with the MP for Haltemprice and Howden.
Of course, he is not alone among Brexiters in having an albatross around his neck. The entire crew of Vote Leave appear to be adorned with their very own and some, like Davis, have several. It’s as if the enterprise had used a rookery of albatrosses for target practice.
Last year Davis, just an ordinary MP since July 2018, tried to row back and claim his original quote was taken out of context, that important qualifications had somehow been ignored. But as far as we can see all his caveats were met.
The elusive benefits of Brexit
Even he is hard pressed to name a single benefit that Brexit has conferred on us. Last June, when asked about it by Andrew Neil on Channel 4, he blamed it on a “remainer’s Brexit” and fended off questions by telling Neil to “ask me back in a year’s time” when he would presumably provide a list. It was as if he had given up hope and was now relying Micawber like, on ‘something’ turning up.
In November, again pushed to name an economic benefit, he admitted there had been none so far (no “major” benefits he said, although it’s only fair to point out we haven’t exactly been overrun by minor ones either) and that time blamed Covid.
The year is up in two months’ time and the chances of any major benefit wandering in unannounced seems vanishingly small. So, doubtless he will be asked the same question again. It’s not obvious what he’s going to say.
“Ask me again in 2025?” How long can that go on? The Communist party in Russia managed it for 70 years but they needed a police state to survive.
What is a downside and how many could there be?
This isn’t an easy question. I hardly know how to answer it myself. The decision to leave the EU led to many other decisions, which are impacting different industries and different people in different ways at different times. Most of them unforeseen by the leave campaigns.
A fisher forced out of a job because their export market was closed off is affected more perhaps than a banker whose family had to move to Paris or Frankfurt and start a new life. The cyclists travelling from Wales to Portugal to raise money for a prostate cancer charity forced to pay a tariff of €10,000 in Santander to release their bikes for a fundraising effort might feel more aggrieved than someone trapped in a coach queueing overnight in Dover.
Exporters wrestling with incomprehensible commodity codes and endless paperwork, or meat processors flying abattoir staff in from Ireland to meet demand due to a shortage of skilled workers caused by Brexit, are all suffering in one way or another.
You only need to flick through the Davis Downside Dossier at random to find dozens of widely different examples. They all represent downsides for me.
Some believe the price is worth paying, regardless of how high it might eventually become. Others will think they’ve at least been overcharged if not defrauded outright. Many, even a significant majority now it seems, object to paying anything at all for things that came for free, or at surprisingly modest costs, before 2021.
When we first started, I for one never expected that we would still be adding downsides at the rate we are more than two years later. What I think we can be certain of, is that the counter hasn’t stopped and there will be many more downsides to add, some that we can’t begin to imagine at the moment.
Thanks to our readers
I try to scan the news myself every day to find new items to add. Our editorial board and writers also alert me to downsides as do our readers – some are dedicated contributors (you know who you are) and of course, I am always very grateful.
Please keep them coming to me at:
To mark the special occasion we have prepared a pdf of the first 1,000 downsides sorted into categories, which is also available on the Davis Downside Dossier page.