Sir David Davis writing in the Telegraph on how the UK can strengthen our negotiating position with the EU


After the PM’s defeat we must now maximise the strength of our negotiating position: here’s how

Now that the Prime Minister’s deal has been voted down in the House of Commons, as widely predicted, the previous statements from Downing Street that there is no alternative will be tested. After losing the vote by a huge margin, the Prime Minister has said she will continue with her deal, seek some changes from Brussels and bring the deal back. We encourage her to take a different path.

There is, in fact, such a path which has widespread support. Along with colleagues, we have helped launch both Plan A Plus and an alternative Withdrawal Agreement. They provide a clear route forward. In the wake of the defeat we must activate them by proposing an alternative withdrawal text to the EU, and by following it up with the full text of a comprehensive, advanced free trade agreement that draws on what the EU has already agreed, including its current and prospective free trade agreements with Canada, South Korea and Japan, and its sectoral insurance agreement with the US and its meat products agreement with New Zealand.

The EU will not accept everything we ask for, of course. But our aim now should be to maximise the strength of our negotiating position. How?

First, use our own leverage. We want a deal. We don’t want to punish EU farmers and car exporters. But the EU has a large trade deficit with us in agriculture and, if we leave without a Withdrawal Agreement, we will have to be more open to the rest of the world, in effect forcing French wine producers, Bavarian dairy farmers, and critically Irish beef farmers to compete against big non-EU agricultural exporters in order to curb food price inflation. The effect will be a dramatic loss of market share for EU farmers. We can use WTO-compliant direct payments for environmental remediation and stewardship to help out our own farmers for the limited time this situation persists, as the EU will want a free-trade agreement in these circumstances, as do we.

Second, prepare properly for exit on WTO terms. In truth, the state people call “no deal” will not be tolerable to the EU for long. The economic and political forces against it in Europe will be too strong. As we know well, preparations have been under way for over two years, but we must be clearer about them and we must step them up.

Third, stop negotiating as if we and the EU are on the same side of the table. We are not. They are our friends, allies and commercial partners. But it was obvious long before Martin Selmayr’s statements that the UK will have the worst of the negotiation, that we are on different sides of the table. Too many negotiating documents have been written in Brussels – not so much a negotiation, but a dictation.

Fourth, stop opening with a bid lower than our bottom line, while the EU’s opening bid is well above theirs.

Fifth, control the pen. The EU is very reactive in negotiations, largely because of the complexity of their internal processes. We should put our own legal text on the table so we can control the drafts.

Sixth, align our trading partners. By announcing serious negotiations with the US and initiating UK accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership while ensuring our offers to the EU are in line with what the US, Australia and New Zealand are offering, we will increase the pressure the EU is under.

Seventh, reclaim the high ground. If our offers to the EU are reasonable, large managers of global supply chains will row in behind them, increasing the likelihood we get a deal.

Eighth, adopt a single approach to trade policy and stop separating the EU from the rest of the world.

It is still not too late. The EU has a track record of coming to the table in the waning hours and will do so if they come under real pressure. We must not take that pressure off by asking for more time before we have put an actual, serious opening bid on the table.

Their offer to us is – and has always been – a comprehensive free trade agreement. It is what we want too. It would take negotiating ineptitude on a grand scale not to achieve it.