Davis under fire from both sides on transition fantasy

by Luke Lythgoe | 24.01.2018

The government should be worried about its Brexit transition plans, following David Davis’ grilling in front of the Commons’ Brexit committee. It seemed neither side in the Brexit debate was buying his “implementation” phase fantasies. Pro-European MPs picked at Davis’ insistence that a “substantive” deal on Britain’s future relationship with the EU can be reached by next March. Meanwhile arch-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg accused the Brexit secretary of making the UK a “vassal state” during the transition period.

Rees-Mogg rebellion?

Rees-Mogg challenged the government’s proposed transition, whereby the UK follows all the EU’s rules but has no seat at the decision-making table. “Aren’t we just still acting like we’re still in the European Union, we’re bound by the European Union, we’re lackeys of the European Union. Can’t we be a bit bolder and implement the referendum result?”

Davis’ very use of the word “transition” was condemned by the Tory backbencher, who said it suggested Britain would be “de facto inside” the EU throughout that period. Why are we not, he asked, just extending Article 50? Davis shot this idea down.

As the new chair of an influential pro-Brexit bloc in Parliament, the European Research Group, Rees-Mogg’s intervention will be seen as troubling for Theresa May and her ministers, raising as it does the spectre of Brexiter rebellion in the Commons. Davis’ reassurance that MPs would get a vote on the deal before accepting it hung uncomfortably in the air.

Timing not right

Meanwhile, pro-European MPs took a subtler line of questioning by getting Davis to outline his time frame for a deal. The Brexit secretary told committee chair Hilary Benn that “all of the substance” of a future deal with the EU will be agreed by next March.

This is at odds with comments made by the EU’s chief negotiator last month, who said only a “political declaration… which will describe the framework” of the future relationship can be made in that time. He said a transition period was needed to “begin and conclude a negotiation on a free trade agreement”.

The big problem is that a future deal probably won’t even be struck by the end of the two-year transition period. A deal this complex normally takes at least five years. Davis admitted that going beyond the two years would “trigger all sorts of problems”.

If the UK wants an extension, according to InFacts’ analysis, we might end up paying double the £39 billion “divorce bill” on the table at the moment, and even then an extension would need the unanimous approval of parliaments across the EU. There’s no guarantee this will go the UK’s way.

The government’s solution to this inconvenient reality is dishonesty, as Davis’ “substantive deal by 2019” fantasy once again showed. By not trying to secure a sensible timetable now, May is leading the UK towards an economic cliff-edge in 2021. Whether you’re a Brexiter worried about vassal states or a pro-European fearing a delayed car crash, the government’s transition plan doesn’t cut the mustard.

Want more InFacts?

Click here to get the newsletter

    Your first name (required)

    Your last name (required)

    Your email (required)

    Choose which newsletters you want to subscribe to (required)
    Daily InFacts NewsletterWeekly InFacts NewsletterBoth the daily and the weekly Newsletter

    By clicking 'Sign up to InFacts' I consent to InFacts's privacy policy and being contacted by InFacts. You can unsubscribe at any time by emailing [email protected]s.org

    This article has been updated to clarify Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments about extending Article 50.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    5 Responses to “Davis under fire from both sides on transition fantasy”

    • Reference to Luke Lythgoe’s comment: “By not trying to secure a sensible timetable now, May is leading the UK towards an economic cliff-edge in 2021”

      Excellent, this very point needs to be used and pushed by all parliamentarians in both Houses, from now on, until the PM and her “Brex Street Boys” are sick of hearing it! Actually, it would be useful if Michel Barnier could speak out on this issue of timetables, to spell out what is possible and what is not possible.

      I hope that the Brexit Committee can also push this point repeatedly, with further interviews with the other miscreants involved.

      If all else fails, as the Guardian’s John Crace has often mentioned, perhaps we should be talking to the PM’s potplants.

    • Some confusion here over the unanimity question. HMG’s position at the moment – which does of course keep changing – is that we are leaving the EU in March 2019. Any extension of this two year deadline would indeed have to be agreed by all 27 as set out under Article 50. But we are not seeking this. We want a two year transition period after we have left. It is unclear at present what vote would be required if an extension to the transition period was sought. This would have to set out in an extension agreement.

    • Davis and his cabinet cohorts have no idea of the mammoth complexity of EU membership, or the fact that if a member, after leaving, wants any advantages of membership, they have to comply with EU rules, and the jurisprudence of the ECJ.
      There is no alternative, these incompetent tories have no idea what they are doing, and they will not listen to civil servants, who may know.
      This idiotic situation could, if the EU allow it, rumble on for many years.
      They should instead accept the undeniable fact that there is no possible ‘deal’ that can be achieved that is any better than staying where we are.
      As the full, influential, members that we actually are, with over 40 years of membership, and working within the EU to improve the functioning of the EU.
      Not running away to some unstated fantasy nirvana of tory, and brexit funders, imagination.
      Unless of course you are a wealthy company owner, or investor, who is funding brexit, to ensure continued avoidance of paying the correct taxes.
      They do not want the EU Anti Tax Avoidance Directive that has to become UK law, in 2019/20, unless brexit goes ahead. This is why the corrupt cabinet want out in 2019 at any cost: https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/company-tax/anti-tax-avoidance-package/anti-tax-avoidance-directive_en

    • Tax avoidance, yes, sounds good to me. I’m looking forward to a referendum on whether we should pay income tax or any other kind of tax. That would certainly get the popular vote. Let’s take back control of our own money! Why let these unelected bureaucrats decide what to do with it? I’m looking forward to all those sunlit uplands ahead…

    • Re Rees-Mogg and the ‘ Vassal state ‘ does he not realize that in a Single Market there can only be one set of rules applied by a single authority ?