David Davis & Brexit Negotiations

Consistent message from Conservatives is “Vote for May to get a steady hand during EU negotiations”.  But of course it’ll be David Davis who’ll be our chief negotiator, not May so how much faith can we put in him to get us a good deal? Presumably, a key requirement for success in that deal would be that Davis is on top of his brief & has a full awareness of the scale of the problem in front of him.  So let’s chart his journey.

As recently as May 2016 he was proposing bi-lateral agreements with EU countries.

Post Brexit a UK-German deal would include free access for their cars and industrial goods, in exchange for a deal on everything else.  Similar deals would be reached with other key EU nations. France would want to protect £3 billion of food and wine exports. Italy, its £1 billion fashion exports. Poland its £3 billion manufacturing exports.

Such bi-lateral agreements are illegal under EU law.

Following the referendum in a post on conservative home  he then turned to non-EU deals:

So be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly.  I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.   I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months.

So within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and therefore before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.  Trade deals with the US and China alone will give us a trade area almost twice the size of the EU, and of course we will also be seeking deals with Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, the UAE, Indonesia – and many others.

By this reckoning the first major trade deals would be due in 4 months and in fact the entire article gives the impression that Brexit is simple and straightforward, and could practically be all over by Christmas.  Around 2 months later Davis changed his position somewhat and was saying  this:

Before article 50 is triggered [it] will be a rather frustrating time as we won’t be saying much. After, I expect it to be a more open process…It may be the most complicated negotiation of all time. By comparison, Schleswig-Holstein [a 19th-century political conundrum] is an O-level question

The question has to be asked – how did he not know this 2 months earlier given that he’d been campaigning for Leave for several months beforehand?  This is particularly concerning as the last cabinet post Davis held between 1994 & 1997 was Europe Minister in Major’s government and therefore was surely best placed to be informed on how the EU and our relationship operates.

However, by January, Davis was confident again and was saying that the Government had a plan to deliver a deal with the “exact same benefits” as the single market:

What was on the ballot paper was leaving the European Union. I am afraid that it is very difficult to see how we can leave the European Union and still stay inside the single market, with all the commitments that go with that. What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have, but also enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to go and form trade deals with the rest of the world, which is the real upside of leaving the European Union.

This despite all evidence indicating that this was impossible given the government’s self imposed red lines on FoM & the ECJ.  Just over a month later he appeared to change his position again as he was telling the cabinet to prepare for the unlikely possibility of UK not getting a Brexit deal.


(The contrast in the 2 news items is interesting). As minister in charge of Brexit, it would seem reasonable for Davis to ask his team to evaluate the impact of a no deal scenario on the UK given that he believed it was a possibility.

When asked whether the Government had made an assessment of the economic impact, he said: “Well, it made an estimate during the referendum campaign, but I think that one of the issues that has arisen is that some of those forecasts don’t appear to have been robust since then…

But not since then. Under my time, no”

Apparently not, a month later Davis admitted no such impact analysis had been carried out.  And yet, despite this lack of analysis, Davis is now threatening to walk out of the EU negotiations.

Before summarizing, it’s worth mentioning 2 additional points to give some further background.  Before David Davis became an MP, he had only one significant career position, at Tate & Lyle:

Davis worked for Tate & Lyle for 17 years, rising to become a senior executive, including restructuring its troubled Canadian subsidiary, Redpath Sugar.[4] He wrote about his business experiences in the 1988 book How to Turn Round a Company.

Tate & Lyle are one of the few major companies to support Brexit, as it wants to displace home grown sugar beet with imported sugar cane.  A second point is that Davis was instrumental in derailing identity cards in the last Labour Government.

As Shadow Home Secretary, Davis turned the Conservatives away from the Labour Party’s plan to reintroduce identity cards,[9] citing spiralling costs and libertarian issues. He turned initial Conservative support into one of concern and abstention, making the final change to one of opposition much easier. Davis believed that once the true cost and unreliability of the ID card scheme was explained to the general public, they would turn against it.

Whatever your views on ID cards, if the UK had them they would help us implement the same Freedom of Movement controls as other countries in the EU, such as the requirement to prove you can support yourself after 3 months:


It should be noted that these are the same controls the UK government under May as Home Secretary failed to implement.


David Davis & Brexit – a summary

So let’s summarise:

  • Prior to campaigning being an MP, Davis spent 17 years as an Exec at a heavily pro Brexit company.
  • He was then Europe Minister for 3 years and so therefore should presumably have gained some insight into the single market & how it operates.
  • He then campaigned for Leave for several months which should have given him further insight.

However, when we look at the last 12 months alone:

  • In May 2016 he proposed illegal and impossible bi-lateral deals with EU countries such as Germany
  • He then proposed in July 2016 a hopelessly naive and technically illegal trade deal plan that would see all major trade deals signed between September this year and September 2018.
  • By September 2016 he finally admitted that Brexit would be complicated, the most complicated negotiation of all time.


  • But by January 2017 he was confident enough to tell Parliament that we could get a deal with the exact same benefits as that which we had now.
  • In February 2017 he reversed again, and was telling his cabinet colleagues that they should prepare for a no deal brexit.
  • But in March 2017 he admitted no work had been done at all to assess the cost of this no deal outcome.
  • However in May 2017 he said he was prepared to walk away from negotiations, even though he promised the exact same benefits as an outcome previously and even though he had not (apparently) costed the impact of such a walk out on the UK.

Finally, and ironically, prior to this period he was instrumental in blocking one of the major initiatives that would have allowed the UK to manage FoM in the same way as our European partners, arguably one of the key drivers for Brexit.

As so much in Brexit, it’s useful to draw real world parallels.  Consider an executive in a large UK organisation.  Say that executive had consistently over promised and under delivered, had set impossible targets and then failed to meet them before radically readjusting them downwards. Furthermore, imagine the reaction if that Executive had utterly failed to carry out any impact analysis on future plans.  What are the chances of that Executive keeping their job under those conditions?

Such a poor performance in the real world would have been addressed months ago. However in the surreal world of Brexit we are expected to trust this man with the most complex negotiation in history.


To be blunt, if you vote Conservative then David Davis will be in charge of Brexit negotiations.  In turn this means that we will likely be walking out of said negotiations sometime in the next 12 months.  Davis, with the help of the pro-brexit press, is already most likely setting us up to follow the path of least resistance (and most destruction) – a walkout which he can blame on the EU.  Any other option involves hard work, compromise and competence.

There is absolutely no evidence that things will turn around or that Davis will suddenly apply himself to the reality of the UK-EU situation.

Walking away with no deal is the most stupid thing to do and is therefore consistent with Davis’s actions so far.

8 thoughts on “David Davis & Brexit Negotiations

  1. I think that’s right, Davis is not a fool, he simply knows what it will take from our side to get a half way acceptable deal and nothing over the past six months shows that the Govt has any ability to stand its ground when it comes under attack from the right wing media.

    Unfortunately I also don’t have much faith in the ability of the Great British public to blame anyone except the EU for this.

    One of the things I’ve been increasingly aware of over the past year is how much passes most people by. News consumption for many involves getting the odd headline on the radio or TV or – crucially – walking past the front pages on the way into Tesco.

    The Leave side, and their successors take advantage of this by making statements that sound sensible to a lot of people who don’t know any better.

    “Germans will want to sell us cars” Everyone knows the Germans make a lot of cars, of course they will. And everyone knows the Germans really call the shots

    “The EU is punishing us by making us pay £100 billion.” Outrageous. Why do we have to pay all that money if we are leaving? Just think about how that could help the NHS

    “The USA and Japan manage to trade outside the Single Market.” Obvious, isn’t it. What do we need the Single Market for?

    “When we’re free of the EU, we can make our own laws and trade with the whole world.” Damn right, let’s do that!

    And so on. That’s then amplified from 30,000 news stands around the country. Every supermarket, train station and corner shop.

    As a result, sadly I’m starting to wonder if we’re just going to have to see this thing through to its conclusion and to drink our bitter medicine. Maybe, just maybe, when we’ve experienced life on the outside will things start to right themselves again.

    I hope I’m wrong and common sense prevails, but that’s what it seems to be shaping up to.


    1. Possibly correct Dirk. My hope is that the gov will implode on it’s own incompetence and/or kick everything into the long grass with a transitional deal because they can’t actually get around to starting proper negotiations. Meanwhile the 52% will start to forget all the reasons why they voted Leave and will focus on the short term pain. Then, we move into a nothing much changes state. It’s not a great prospect but its a hope


  2. Note that Davis doesn’t or didn’t know what “most-favoured nation” means. The quote sounds like he meant something like our most important trade partners, or most lucrative, or the ones we like the most. But that’s not what it means – the most-favoured nation is the one with which you have the lowest tariff rate, so any other country that has a most-favoured nation clause gets the same rate as the most-favoured nation. This, I think, is really terrible.


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