David Davis: ousting Theresa May would be catastrophic for Brexit talks – The Guardian
The secretary of state for exiting the EU did not deny reports that colleagues had urged him to stand for the leadership in a private meeting. But he insisted that his response was to urge them to get behind May. He said his message to any colleagues agitating for change was: “Get on with the day job. People put us here to deliver a decent economy, to deliver a decent life for them, to deliver Brexit.”
Davis argued that the more “self-indulgent nonsense you go in for”, the more difficult it was for the government to achieve success, including over Brexit.
Claiming that two minutes discussing the issue of leadership on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show was “two minutes too long”, he compared May favourably to her predecessors, saying she was doing a good job.
Davis also said that he could not be “100% sure” that Britain would secure a Brexit deal at the end of its talks with the EU27, insisting that he never claimed it would be an easy process.
He admitted the Tories had been dealt a “different hand” after being stripped of their majority in the general election.
Asked if he was absolutely sure that there would be a deal at the end of the two-year process, Davis replied: “I’m pretty sure, I’m not 100% sure. It is a negotiation.”
Pressed on the issue, he said there would be “a deal” but added: “I can’t be certain” that it would involve the free trade deal and customs agreement Britain was asking for.
He insisted he had always known it would be difficult. “I never said it was a breeze. I said it will be turbulent, there will be difficulties but at the end there is a point of common interest.”
Quoting Britain’s trade deficit with the EU and mentioning the interests of manufacturers, farmers and others in Germany, France and Holland, he argued that there were interests on both sides to find a mutually beneficial outcome.
He also said that a number of senior figures – including the governor of the Bank of England – were putting their own interests forward, but said: “It is not a macho clashing of antlers, it is about finding the place that suits both sides.”
He gave the example of EU citizens claiming Britain was offering a deal for those living here before a chosen cutoff date, which would be no earlier than when article 50 was triggered and no later than the final deal, that was almost equivalent in status to UK citizens.
“They get the same residence rights, the same employment rights, the same rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pensions rights and so on, almost the same as British citizens,” he said, insisting they would not be second-class citizens.
“The only thing they don’t get is the right to vote – and we ask for the same the other way.”
But the disagreement came over the role of the European court of justice, he said, adding that while Britain could accept some form of arbitration it could not be the ECJ.
Davis said he did not expect anyone to face deportation, “unless they’ve committed a crime or [pose] some sort of security problem”.
Asked about Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, Davis described him as “very French, very logical … very grand … very elegant”.
But he said the negotiations would be slow. “It will be stiff, it will be small movements incrementally, so small it will be invisible sometimes, but it will happen.”
The first priorities were citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland, he said, arguing “that is more important than having a row now” over the timing of the exit and trade talks.
Although David did not adopt Philip Hammond’s language over no deal being a “very, very bad” outcome, he said he was in the same place as the chancellor and believed a punishment deal would not be acceptable.
He also accepted that there would be transitional arrangements for one to two years, but would not stipulate what the impact that would have on issues such as immigration and the ECJ. “This is not an ideological thing – it is a practical thing,” he said.
Finally, Davis admitted he had advised May to push ahead with the early election: “Yes, I take my share of the blame on it along with the 23 members of the cabinet who also said it was a good idea.”
But in a criticism of the Tory campaign, he added: “I didn’t apologise to her. I didn’t design the campaign, I thought we’d get a better result than you did.”
He warned Labour against “cynical opposition” on Brexit, pointing out that his counterpart, Keir Starmer, did not have any disagreements on the great repeal bill.
“If we get cynical opposition … this little wave of euphoria we are seeing around Mr Corbyn may evaporate.”
And in what could be seen as a dig at his colleague Andrea Leadsom, who accused an interviewer of not being patriotic when asking about Brexit negotiations, he said: “I prefer forensic rather than patriotic and it is certainly that.”