During the government’s crunch negotiations with Brussels to get ‘sufficient progress’ before Christmas, nervous Brexiteers began to worry that Theresa May was about to give too much away. Jacob Rees-Mogg used a question at PMQs to warn the Prime Minister that her Brexit red lines were ‘beginning to look a little bit pink’. He urged her to ‘apply a new coat of paint’ before she next goes to Brussels.
So, it will come as some concern to the Conservative Brexiteers – and the members of the European Research Group, that Rees-Mogg now leads, that today Davis said anyone who goes into negotiations with ‘red lines’ is an ‘idiot’. In an appearance before the Commons Brexit select committee this morning, the Brexit Secretary said that only an ‘idiot’ would go into a commercial negotiation with red lines, because if you do that, the red lines are all you will get.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) January 24, 2018
That may be, but the rest of Davis’s answers will do little to reassure the Brexiteers either. In a fiery exchange, Rees-Mogg – a member of the select committee, proposed that the Brexit transition proposed by Davis would make the UK a ‘vassal state’. Davis said that although the UK would accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ in this period, he did not accept the term ‘vassal’ state. When Rees-Mogg spoke on Newsnight this month, he said he’d rather extend Article 50 than have this transition period – as that way the UK would still be at the table.
The problem for the government is that Rees-Mogg is not just a lone uncompromising Brexiteer – he is now the chair of the all-powerful Brexit wing of the party, know as the European Research Group. If he is raising concerns, it’s likely that they reflect those of many of his colleagues. Davis’ performance today will not have eased these.