Sir David Davis writes in The Times on how the PM’s Brexit deal is still (just) capable of rescue


As published in The Times:

Last week I voted for the prime minister’s Brexit deal even though I thought it was a poor deal. Indeed it was even worse than the one that I resigned in protest at.

I would have preferred a no-deal outcome but the votes in parliament last week have ruled it out and the visible divisions in the cabinet mean the prime minister does not have the power to force a no-deal outcome. So the real risk is that the “remainer” establishment will block Brexit, a betrayal that would reap a democratic whirlwind.

Under some circumstances the prime minister’s deal is capable of rescue. The greatest weakness is that it may leave us locked in the Northern Ireland backstop, unable to escape. This creates a fear that eventually the UK government would accept leaving Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market in order to escape the constraints.

In my view this is resolvable by giving Northern Ireland a legislative guarantee that it will never be separated from the rest of the UK. This is straightforward and should be offered by the government. Without this the DUP will not vote for the deal this week and in truth neither will I.

The “star chamber” of Eurosceptic lawyers thought we were still at risk of being trapped in the backstop but Lord David Pannick, probably the most eminent lawyer of his generation and no Brexiteer, said that if the UK and EU were unable to reach agreement then the UK would be entitled to withdraw.

If the EU tries to play its games of deliberately slowing negotiations we should publicly complain, loudly and vociferously, not just to the EU but to every one of our prospective trading partners.

We should make it clear that while we do not wish to terminate the withdrawal agreement backstop, if the EU does not behave properly we will exercise our rights and leave.

That approach puts a real duty on us to do the next stage right. Nobody could reasonably describe the UK’s current negotiating strategy as successful.

It should change not only the negotiating team but also the whole negotiating strategy. This is now an industrial scale negotiation that cannot be run like a cottage industry out of the back rooms of No 10.

We need at least 22 negotiating teams to run all the strands of the negotiation in parallel. We should use experienced trade negotiators in the key areas, not civil servants who are learning on the job. Most of all we should put the whole thing under proper political leadership of the relevant cabinet ministers, not have it run in secret by a Whitehall machine.

On this basis the prime minister’s deal is capable of rescue and on that basis I would vote for it again. Judging by last week the alternative would be a cascade of chaos, eventually ending in a remainer attempt, first to delay Brexit by a long time and then reverse it.

I have told the prime minister that in my judgment the government would not survive such an outcome, since it would have failed to deliver on the referendum, on our manifesto and on the most important issue affecting the destiny of our country in our generation.