David Davis has just finished his first statement to the Commons on the process for the UK exiting the European Union. Davis’s initial statement stuck closely to what the government has said already; the coordinated Labour backbench heckle of ‘waffle, waffle’ had some truth to it. But it was striking that Davis said he hoped the UK’s security relationship with the EU would be as close or closer post-Brexit; in Whitehall, Britain’s intelligence and military capabilities are regarded as one of our key assets in the negotiation.
But in answer to the questions that followed, Davis–a naturally frank politician—gave a clearer sense of what he means by Brexit. In answer to his protégé Dominic Raab, Davis indicated that he didn’t favour paying anything or conceding anything on border controls to get a free trade deal with the EU. When Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury select committee, pressed him on whether the UK would remain inside the customs union once it left the EU, Davis said the government hadn’t yet decided whether to do this. But the language of his answer strongly suggested that he agreed with Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, that the UK should leave the customs union so that it has a free hand to do trade deals outside it.
Davis was, again, clear that he doesn’t want to see leaving the EU lead to any diminution in workers’ rights. He told Angela Eagle that it was, in large part, the industrial working class who had voted for Brexit and he wouldn’t have any truck with undermining their rights. Indeed, Davis seems to feel about the industrial working class the way that Margaret Thatcher did the Nottinghamshire miners straight after the miners’ strike, as our friends who must be looked after.
SNP MPs kept asking Davis hostile questions about Brexit and complaining about Scotland been taken out of the EU against its wishes. Davis’ patience with them was just beginning to snap, which is—of course—what they want when Bercow called an end to the session. But I suspect that this repetitive fire from the SNP will be a feature of all Brexit statements and debates in the years to come.
There was a sense of the referendum campaign continuing in several of the exchanges. Labour MPs wanted to know when the government was going to implement Vote Leave’s promises while Leave’s Michael Gove took the opportunity to have a pop at, what he called, ‘the soi-disant experts’. Listing the positive economic news of the last few weeks, Gove declared that it showed the 17 million people who voted leave knew more a ‘darn sight more’ about economics than this lot. Davis wasn’t prepared to be quite so bullish, cautioning that there still may be tough times ahead.
What has become clear in the last week or so, is that the UK is not going to end up staying in the single market—in either the EU or the EEA. Davis’s appearance today also suggested that the UK would leave the customs union when it left the EU. However, it is also becoming apparent that the UK relationship with the EU on matters such as security means that post-Brexit, the UK and the EU will have more than just a trading relationship.