David Davis was interviewed last September by the Institute for Government (IfG) in its series Ministers Reflect. During this interview, he attacked civil servants involved in the negotiations with the EU Commission for doing “a really crap job”. His comments only surfaced recently in The Telegraph and also the Civil Service World website, where they will no doubt be avidly read.
However, also in the interview, he says he is, “often cited in the Remainers’ stuff – it’s great fun, watching this propaganda – saying ‘there will be no downside to Brexit at all’”. Since our Davis Downside Dossier is ticking ever closer to the first 1,000 downsides, it can be assumed that this is part of the ‘remainer stuff’ that Davis is talking about.
Davis claims he has been misquoted
By way of an excuse, he claims he was misquoted:
“I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the original quote”, Davis says. “It’s quite interesting, because that’s only half a sentence. The first part of the sentence is, ‘If we can achieve all that’. If all of these conditions are met, Brexit will have no downsides. If you read the previous five paragraphs of Hansard, it’s the conditions and they’re not straightforward, you know.”
Ever eager to please and be scrupulously fair to Mr Davis, we at Yorkshire Bylines have again reviewed the five preceding paragraphs (read them yourself HERE column 55). The conditions he sets out are summarised by Davis himself in response to a question from Neil Carmichael (Conservative, Stroud) asking what tests are to be applied to determine if Brexit was a success or not.
This is Davis’s full answer:
“It is hard to have tests along the track of the negotiations; it is the outcome that matters. In response to my opposite number, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I highlighted three of the four main aims that we are after. One is to regain control of our borders. Another is to get back control of our laws. The one I did not list was our aim to keep our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they are.
“Finally, and most importantly in this context, the United Kingdom must aim to maintain the best possible open access to European markets and vice versa. If we can achieve all that, there will be no downside to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides.”David Davis MP Hansard 10 October 2016, col 55
Which ‘aims’ have not been achieved?
All four of the ‘main aims’ would appear to have been met. We regained control of our borders and our laws, and we kept our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they were (unless Davis is claiming they are now less strong than they were?).
The most important aim, according to Davis, was to “maintain the best possible open access to European markets and vice versa”.
Given the government’s own red lines, ones Davis has supported from the outset (indeed, he resigned in 2018 when he thought Theresa May was backsliding on them), we do indeed have the “best possible access” to European markets. It is of course far less open than we enjoyed as members, but that was our choice. On that basis there should be “no downsides and considerable upsides”.
Yet we see plenty of downsides and few upsides.
Brexit has ‘not yet delivered’
The only way the hundreds of downsides could have been avoided was to have remained in the single market and the customs union, but Davis tells the IfG that: “If you’re not going to have a divergence policy, you haven’t got a Brexit.” He describes May’s backstop proposal as a “giving away of the full alignment, which is the central crack in the whole Brexit negotiation”.
Davis concedes that Brexit “has not yet delivered” and because of May’s “bloody silly decision” it will take five years longer than it should have done.
It seems Davis thought (and still thinks) that Brexit meant Britain could retain all the frictionless benefits of the single market and the customs union, while leaving both entities and diverging from the rules that make them possible, all while not being signed up as an EU member state.
If that is indeed his definition, I am afraid Brexit is going to take much, much longer than five years and probably will never happen.
Brexit problems are the fault of everyone else
Our negotiators needn’t fear they have been singled out. In the interview, Davis says Whitehall standards have dropped dramatically. He lambasts “useless” government lawyers, the Foreign Office for being “very depleted”, and the Treasury for having “variable” quality staff because the government couldn’t compete with the multi-million pound earnings to be had by bright young people in the City.
May and her negotiator were simply naïve, apparently. Whitehall’s “dyed-in-the-wool eurocrats” couldn’t “understand what we were doing”.
All of which is slightly odd, since from the outside it always looked as if Davis was the one who didn’t know what he was doing.