The most memorable line from David Davis’s statement on the Brexit negotiations to the Commons was his claim that ‘nobody pretended this would be simple or easy’. MPs who disagree with the Brexit Secretary loved this because quite a few people have made claims to that effect, including Davis and his colleague the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
But in terms of any revelations to MPs, the most interesting line from the minister was that the negotiations on the divorce bill could go down to the wire. ‘My expectation is that the money argument will go on for the full duration of the negotiation,’ he told the Commons. This is one of the rows that is particularly politically difficult for the government, as a £50bn divorce bill isn’t quite the sort of freedom voters were promised when they made their decision about Brexit.
Davis stuck at being an optimist despite constant jeering and a good response from Labour’s Keir Starmer, in which the Shadow Brexit Secretary ridiculed what he claimed were constant changes of heart, both over the ease with which the negotiations would progress and the options for the customs border with Ireland. Davis also insisted in response to Ken Clarke’s scepticism about the possibility of securing a decent trade deal that ‘it is entirely possible to deliver a first class Brexit for Britain’.
But there were less upbeat lines about the talks, too. He said the government wanted the talks to move to the question of the UK’s future relationship with the EU by October ‘if possible’. Starmer was particularly critical of the way the timetable was progressing, arguing that if phase two of the negotiations did end up being pushed back, a no-deal option ‘could yet rise from the ashes’. As for making any more predictions about how easy the talks would be, Davis instead stuck to warning that the negotiations would get ‘very stormy’ at some point.
He didn’t need to worry about stormy scenes in the Commons today, though. Save Clarke’s sceptical question, there was barely any hostility from the Tory benches. Even Anna Soubry was supportive. But that’s because critics of the Brexit negotiations have their own timetable, which they plan to stick to, and are keeping their powder dry for a little longer before they start their own Commons fight.