David Davis: Britain risks 'giving up a real future' over Brexit

Anna Mikhailova
David Davis - PA

David Davis has warned that Britain risks "giving up a real future" over Brexit in his first intervention since quitting the Cabinet over Theresa May's Chequer's compromise.

The Brexit Secretary said that the EU is "slow and not very effective" and warned that Britain benefits the least from its current free trade with Brussels.

He said that Britain will be "throwing away a power" if it remains a member of the Customs Union. The Government is today facing a revolt by pro-European Tory MPs who want staying in the Customs Union to be an "objective" of negotiations.

The former Brexit Secretary urged MPs to back the customs bill and the trade bill this week, before arguing how business can operate post-Brexit and praising the “advantages” Britain has allowing it to punch “above our economic weight.”

“I read that some people were so cross with the White Paper that they were proposing to vote against this,” he said. "Well, I don't think they can be much more cross than me with the White Paper, but I do urge them not to vote against (the customs bill)."

Mr Davis yesterday spoke for the first time since returning to the back-benches during a tense debate in the Commons,  which he referred to as a “rhetorical firefight".

He said "the most difficult issue in this negotiation relating to borders" is that of the border in Northern Ireland: "There's no way however that a UK Government is ever going to install a hard border in Northern Ireland,” he said, before adding the issues are “soluble by technical means, soluble by co-operation between the two states."

Chequers Brexit deal | Read more

He told MPs the EU is a "slow and not very effective" negotiator of free trade agreements while the UK, while it will be smaller, will be well placed to negotiate new deals. “Many many countries that are smaller than us do very good trade deals,” he said. “Switzerland is an obvious example.”

Speaking of Britain’s advantages, he said: "We have the English language, we have English law, we are leaders in life sciences, artificial intelligence, Internet, medicine, a whole series of areas."

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, labelled two of the amendments "unnecessary" and "useless", adding the only reason behind their tabling was "malevolent".

Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor, said: "If, one week after the Government has set out a policy which I'm prepared personally to give a fair wind to, I find that they are going to accept amendments like new clause 73 and new clause 36, which promptly change the policy in a quite ridiculous way, I shall despair."

It comes as Mr Davis’ former aide warned the Conservatives they face electoral catastrophe if Leave voters are “betrayed”, and the party could suffer a wipeout that would make their loss in 1997 look like a “vicar’s tea party”.

Stewart Jackson, who lost his seat in last year’s general election, said the Tories should have been more “brutal” with Mrs May after the party lost its majority in the Commons.

Theresa May’s Brexit resignations

He argued that Britain was now going “cap-in-hand” as “supplicants” to the EU, a situation he says could have been avoided.

Mr Jackson, a Brexit supporter, also said he was blocked by Downing Street from returning to the Department for Exiting the European Union to advise Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis last week as Brexit Secretary.

In his first broadcast interview since resigning, Mr Jackson told Iain Dale on LBC: “This is an existential issue for the Tory party.

“If we are seen as betraying 17.4 million people, it’ll make 1997 look like a vicar’s tea party.

“It has shades now of 1997, because when you start deferring policy and politics to civil servants electoral catastrophe follows quite quickly afterwards.”

He added: “My view is, [Mrs May] has handled the negotiations about as badly as it’s possible to handle them and the Parliamentary party must come to a settled position as whether she can do any better.

“We could have been in a much stronger position, we are now going cap-in-hand as supplicants to the European Union.”