David Davis’ Vienna Speech was bland and lacking in detail

Labour Party

Brexit Secretary, David Davis, today delivered his Vienna speech outlining that the UK is in the best possible shape to make Brexit work. So confident was he that he promised that the UK won’t plunge into a dystopian Mad Max style world. Any such claims are unfounded, he said.

He went on to dismiss such suggestions stating it was based on nothing: “not our history or our shared interest.” But overall his message appeared to be the UK Government wants (and expects to get) its cake and eat it. Davis also asked for the UK to be trusted, but that trust is not in great supply at the moment – and as we all know trust is an important currency.

Davis’ speech continued by rejecting the idea that leaving the EU will mean a race to the bottom, in terms of workers’ rights and environmental protections.

However, while Davis delivered his speech, the Dutch Government announced it was activating plans for a ‘hard Brexit’ due to the lack of clarity from the UK which, it said, is “impeding negotiations”.

The Dutch Government is right, there is both a lack of vision and planning for the task ahead. This is an accusation the UK is unable to deny, and is the reason Theresa May is convening her Cabinet to discuss the future direction.

The Dutch Government is, unlike the UK, prepared. It understands what is required to ensure the impact of Brexit is kept to a minimum. For example, in readiness for the new rules on trade the Dutch Government is preparing its infrastructure by employing 1000 extra customs officers, so it can cope with the additional burden that will result from the border checks. In other words, they have a clear understanding and recognise precisely what it means to leave the European Union.

In contrast the Home Office has been very clear that it’s not anywhere near ready to put in the border checks or the additional immigration checks which are going to be required. In a word, it’s just chaotic.

Davis says we will work with other EU countries to drive standards, but this is muddy at best. The UK is not only unclear about what it wants, but much of what it wants is impossible to achieve.

Let’s not forget the words of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier who said last year: “The UK wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations. But it also wants to have these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible. You cannot be outside the single market and shape its legal order.”

David Davis’ evidence to the Brexit committee is both uncomfortable to watch and thin on detail:

Labour Party

Earlier today David Davis gave evidence to the Brexit Committee. My colleague Sarah MacKinlay watched some of it and gives some insight here.

Below is a snapshot of answers to just some of the questions he gave. This small yet informative snapshot illustrates just how out of his depth he truly is. He consistently contradicted himself. He was out of his depth. And was extremely thin on detail and generally looked uncomfortable and awkward and didn’t not speak with conviction.

Joanna Cherry SNP MP: asked David Davis about borders. She explained how the Brexit committee was given evidence from a senior executive and trade advisor to Linklaters who is also a senior lecturer at Cambridge University. His evidence suggested that stated a CETA* type deal wouldn’t be compatible with the Northern border. The academic said: 1. There would have to be checks on VAT, so taxes are applied at the border. 2. There would have to be checks on products to check they could be sold and 3. checks on rules of origin to make sure products are coming from the right region.

The issue she said would be lack of openness of the border and the lack of structure at the border.

David Davis acknowledged that a “CETA arrangement doesn’t give us enough to go on (in relation to the Brexit deal) but that it gives us something to go on” – “it’s the starting point”, he says. This is somewhat meaningless. What is he talking about? How can we possibly consider replicating a CETA style arrangement?

Next to question Davis is John Whittingdale, Conservative MP: He asked: “what is the difference between transition and once we leave?”

Davis answered that we will not be subject to the duty of corporation which is what stops the UK arriving at trade deals now. “That freedom will exist”, he promised.
“There will be other changes one which is that EU citizens wishing to come to work will have to register,” he enthused. And then said: “It will be a variety of things like that”, in other words he wasn’t sure of the detail.

John Whittingdale then went on to asked: “The European Council published their draft negotiations directives for the transition period. Can you say which of those we would not accept?”

David Davis replied: “I’ve avoided the leaked guidelines.” When pressed further about where there might be argument Davis replied he expected there to be issues around “doing outside negotiations” the very thing he had just said we can do once we are in the transition period!

David Davis explained he is relaxed about transition because “what matters is what happens after”. Yes, perhaps one of the things to be agreed on! It matters hugely what happens in the future.

He continued that he expected that “we will get an agreement on a transition period in the next 6-8 weeks. Not said in terms but intimated…”

Whittingdale then fairly asked “and how many meetings have you got organised between now and that period?”

To which Davis responded: “none”. So how exactly, is the transition going to be agreed if there are no meetings to agree on it?!

The transition period will be about two years David Davis confirmed. But insisted it’s not a number plucked out of the air…

Asked if negotiations will continue into the transition period he said: “No. Well there may be detailed issues to be resolved. But no not in principle. Bear in mind we can’t sign the thing (the deal) until we are a third country. That’s a problem for European law not us. Frankly that’s the logic of the strategy.” So that’s clear…

Emma Reynolds: Asked if after exit day (and during transition) if the UK will remain in the single market and customs union?

“No”, said Davis, “because we won’t be a member of the EU at that point. But we in operation terms, from the point of view of looking at it from a business it will look the same.”

Reynolds went on – “but we won’t have a seat at the table”. To which Davis nodded and replied “yes”.

Richard Graham, Conservative MP: Asked: “European Union has published what it thinks are still the issues which need to be resolved concerning citizens rights are. What’s our Government’s analysis of what likely sticking points will be?”

Completely avoiding the obvious elephant in the room. Davis answered vaguely: “I don’t think there will be sticking points necessarily. The one sticking point is um err um the issue of err voting, because that is an issue for on one two member states.”

Addressing the issue of aforementioned elephant Richard Graham said: “You don’t think the issue of guaranteeing future free movement rights for British citizens across all the 27 countries?”

And Davis said: “That’s been a sticking point but the impression one was given anyway that the sticking point point… was that this is a future matter and they want to hold back on it.” Phew what a relief that’s been addressed….

But he didn’t stop there. Continuing with his statement he said:
“Bear in mind that will interact quite closely with, whatever we do on services, professional services in particular. So, the right to move around will be quite an important part of that. So, it may well be that they are holding that back as a bit of a bargaining chip for that part of the negotiations.” Not necessarily a bad sign. Not necessarily a bad sign.” Wagging his finger to indicate that he is on to something…

David Davis’ leaked letter is embarrassing

Labour Party

The leaked letter sent to Theresa May by Brexit Secretary David Davis’ in which he complained about the European Union discriminating against Britain was not only embarrassing but also damaging. It has done nothing to foster good relations or to help things at the negotiating table. Instead it shows Davis to be, as Jonathan Liss, Deputy Director of British Influence, wrote in the Guardian as petulant.

His main criticism is that the EU is not giving enough consideration to more favourable outcomes following Brexit. What on earth does he expect? While David Davis is busy burying his head in the sand, failing to carry out impact assessments, due diligence or preparing for alternative outcomes to the one he and the Government favours his opposite negotiators are preparing professionally for all possible scenarios.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament Brexit Co-ordinator responded to Davis’ claims that the EU is damaging the UK’s economic interest before it’s left the Union stating that the UK Government only had itself to blame and was responsible for damaging the UK’s economic interests. The EU is simply acting on the threats issued by Davis – the mantra we hear with ever greater frequency “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Rather than bluffing, penning petulant letters to his boss or issuing idle threats about legal action David Davis should confront the situation which is entirely of the British Government’s own making. Nobody else can possibly be blamed, surely?

David Davis must move on from this embarrassing note before he completely erodes any form of cordiality or trust which will only serve to further hamper the fragile negotiating process-a position he has created and further enhanced by the publication of this silly and infantile leaked letter.

Of course, the only sensible course of action is to remain in the EU. No deal can possibly be as good as the one we have through being a member of the European Union.

Why hard Brexit is a damaging fantasy

Labour Party

Martin Woolf in yesterday’s online Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/939c7ed0-8e32-11e6-a72e- hit the nail on the head:

“Formal sovereignty is not power. The UK government announces its intentions. The reaction of others determines results.

“By a thin margin the country voted for some kind of Brexit. But the government has no mandate for the rather extreme version it is choosing. Triggering Article 50 without parliamentary approval might be impossible. It surely ought to be impossible. Moreover, Brexiters insist that their goal is to restore parliamentary sovereignty. Why then does the government plan to ignore parliament when these decisions are taken?”

It’s actually worse than that since Government Ministers also seem to be ignoring their officials, taking the Leave side’s contempt for “experts” to a new low. Brexit Minister David Davis is now accusing Treasury civil servants of trying to undermine Brexit negotiations as part of a “desperate strategy” to keep Britain in the single market. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/11/david-davis-accuses-treasury-officials-of-trying-to-undermine-br/

 The redoubtable Mr Davis whose capacity for fantasy is on an exponentially upward leap, is understood to believe that the warning is part of a “succession of treasury briefings that are damaging negotiations”

Whatever Mr Davis thinks, the Treasury is not making this up. Why would they? Surely their lives would be easier if they went along with the Government and threw the well-being of Britain to the winds. Instead, the much derided officials are doing their duty, warning , amongst other things, that according to leaked draft Cabinet papers, if Britain leaves the Single Market without a new deal it will cost the Treasury £66billion in tax revenues.

Meanwhile the City of London, one time cheer-leaders for the Conservatives, are increasingly worried about the impact tougher immigration controls and departure from the single market could have on their revenues. Miles Celic, chief executive of the influential industry body TheCityUK is on record as saying: A “hard Brexit” that takes Britain clean out of the single market, and leaves the U.K. to trade with the EU under WTO rules, will do “significant” harm to the financial services sector.”

Back to Martin Woolf: “What drove Leavers was, we are also told, “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”. The currency markets demonstrate the emptiness of that principle. Britain’s EU partners are about to do the same. The premise of the Leave campaign was false: a host of decisions that affect the UK will always be taken outside it.”

It would be comic if it wasn’t so serious. We are not talking about cosy sofa politics or even the Oxford Union debating society. This is about people’s lives, their quality of life, their health, their education and just about everything else which relies on government to deliver it. Ultimately, it’s about today’s young people and future generations.


David Davis puts the Cat among the Pigeons

Labour Party

David Davis

It’s gratifying to be proved right, though rather less gratifying when it’s on such a fundamental subject as Britain in the EU.

Since I posted yesterday, David Cameron has been put in a very invidious position by the ex-Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.  Davis has, in effect, issued a direct challenge to Cameron’s authority on Conservative policy towards Europe.

Writing here in the Daily Mail, Mr. Davis has called on the Tory leader to offer the public a referendum on the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  Davis’s challenge is, of course, a direct result of yesterday’s announcement that Cameron has abandoned his “cast iron” pledge that the Tories would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron and the Tories have consistently and constantly argued that the Labour Government should have held a referendum on Lisbon.  What price honesty now, Mr. Cameron?

As we all know, the Conservatives made their U-turn after the Czech government caved in and signed up to the Treaty yesterday, removing the final obstacle to its ratification.  I would have thought Cameron and co might have anticipated this happening and made their policy accordingly.

For David Davis all seems startlingly clear.  He proclaims today:

“What we should do is, in my view, clear. We should have a referendum, not on the treaty, but on the negotiating mandate that the British Government takes to the European Union.

“The question should contain four or five specific strategic aims which clearly summarise our objectives.

“The sort of things we might include are: recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy.

“The referendum should be the first piece of legislation in the new parliament, and should be held within three months of the election.

“Some fear this would become an ‘in or out’ referendum, a decision on whether to continue our membership of the European Union. It would be nothing of the sort. Killing this tired old canard is one of the reasons the referendum question has to be absolutely clear in language and intent.

“Of course it is possible that we will not achieve every change we want.

If that is the outcome, we should give the British people the right to accept or reject it in a further referendum.”

So that’s all right then Mr. D.  Hold a referendum which will have no status whatsoever with the EU Council of Ministers, the European Commission or even the European Parliament and then seek to impose Tory Party prejudices on the EU as a whole.  Wow, that’s one hell of a policy.  I’m glad you believe it Mr. Davis because I can assure you no-one in the EU will give it even the smallest chink of the light of day, your referendum notwithstanding.

This David Davis nonsense only serves to highlight Tory wrong headedness on Europe.  The Davis faction, which to an outside observer seems to be the Tory grassroots, most Conservative MPs and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet, are quite honestly living in la la land.  It will simply not be possible to do what they want.  It is not a credible policy.

Since the Lisbon Treaty for the first time allows existing EU member states to withdraw from the European Union, the only referendum which makes any sense at all is the one on whether the UK remains in the EU or comes out.    

 David Davis in his article rejects such a referendum on EU membership, presumably because he thinks the he and the anti-Europeans would lose.

 The views of the Tory Party, as opposed to those of David Cameron, on Europe obviously remain confused to put it mildly.  It will be interesting to see whether my hunch that Cameron will go with his Party turns out to be correct.