The Brexit Secretary David Davis has quit. Davis’s resignation is the biggest political crisis that Theresa May has faced since the loss of her majority in the general election and leaves her facing a battle to save her premiership.
Davis has gone because he could not stomach the opening UK negotiating position agreed at Chequers. Davis has long been clear that he wanted a final deal that was, essentially, a souped-up version of the Canada free trade deal. But the position agreed at Chequers envisaged a relationship very different to that, one far more firmly in the EU’s regulatory orbit. As Brexit Secretary Davis was meant to promote the Chequers plan at home and abroad. He clearly didn’t feel that he could do that.
In truth. Davis has long been side-lined in developing the government’s negotiating position. Theresa May has come to rely more and more on her civil service sherpa, Olly Robbins, for advice. Recently, one well placed Tory told me that David had been ‘goaded beyond endurance’ by this. If the Brexit Secretary is not the key influence on the Prime Minister’s thinking on the deal the UK is aiming for and how to get there, then they are not doing their job—or being allowed to do it.
Davis’s departure will increase unease on the Tory backbenches about what was agreed at Chequers, and lead to more letters going in to Graham Brady demanding a vote of confidence. Though, on all wings of the Tory party there is agreement that May would survive such a vote at present.
May’s performance at a meeting of the Tory parliamentary party tomorrow night has now taken on a whole new significance. Given the reality of the situation, she’ll struggle to rule out further concessions to the EU. But if she does not do so, the pressure on her will only increase.
Update: Steve Baker, one of Davis’s junior ministers, has also resigned. Baker’s resignation is particularly significant as he is a former head of the ERG, the most important Eurosceptic lobby in the party, and was the link man for Leave-supporting backbench Tory MPs during the referendum.