He now has one of the most important jobs of this generation – namely, to negotiate the deal to remove the UK from the European Union. This could be regarded as the most important negotiation in modern history for our country and yet what do we really know about the man?
David Michael Davis was born in 1948 and has been the MP for Haltemprice and Howden (no, me neither!) since 1997 and was previously the MP for Boothferry (no, me neither!) since 1987 and is now a member of the Privy Council. Davis was raised on a council estate in South London and after attending the local Grammar school in Tooting, he went on to gain a Masters Degree in business at the age of 25 before joining Tate and Lyle where he served as a senior director for over 17 years. After entering politics in 1987, the then Prime Minister John Major appointed him as Europe Minister in 1994. In 2016, following the EU referendum, Theresa May appointed him as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
So our future, and that of the entire United Kingdom, is in the hands of this man. Sure, parliament will get to vote and Labour will play their silly games but what this man comes home with at the end of the day will be the deal we live with for decades. Is he up to the job? Is he actually a Remainer or a Leaver?
The EU has put up Michel Barnier to fight their corner and it is thought in some corners that he has been ordered to make our departure ‘painful, expensive and messy’ to deter any other states from following our path. Of course, one can see the sense in this approach as, if it is an easy and fruitful departure, there are other states that will charge for the door in a heartbeat but this approach will be totally counter productive for both sides.
Barnier is a former French government minister, who was handpicked by François Hollande, the former French president, to lead the Brexit negotiations. It should be remembered that the UK has always had a ‘pinikity’ relationship with the French and there are so many past prejudices coming into play here that it will be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Barnier is concerned about the progress of discussions and has urged the UK to start “negotiating seriously”, as the third round of talks with Davis began in Brussels. He said he welcomed the British government’s position papers, which he had read “very carefully”, but standing beside Davis he added that he wanted the UK to come clean on how much it was prepared to pay in terms of an exit bill. “We need UK positions on all separation issues. This is necessary to make sufficient progress. We must start negotiating seriously. We need UK papers that are clear in order to have constructive negotiations. And the sooner we remove the ambiguity the sooner we will be in a position to discuss our future relationship through the transitional period.”
However, Davis refuses to spell out what he thinks the UK could be liable to pay, despite having admitted Britain has “obligations” from its 44 years of EU membership. European leaders have agreed unanimously that the UK must make sufficient progress on three separation issues before talks can progress to trade. Barnier’s mandate means the UK has to reach an agreement on the financial settlement, the Irish border and EU citizens’ rights before discussing a future relationship with the EU.
The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, repeated this message recently, when he told an audience of EU diplomats he was disappointed by the British government’s approach to the negotiations.
“I have read with all necessary attention all the position papers drawn up by the UK government but none of them really give me satisfaction, so there is an enormous amount of questions that need to be resolved,” he said.
Davis has repeatedly said the EU timetable is “inflexible”. As he entered the talks, he repeated his call for the EU to show “imagination” about the organisation of the talks. “For the United Kingdom, the week ahead is about driving forward the technical discussion ahead, across all the issues. We want to lock in the points where we agree, unpick the areas where we disagree and make further progress on the whole range of issues. In order to do that we require flexibility and imagination from both sides.”
Davis returned to London after hours of talks with Barnier and a day of briefings with UK officials. More than 100 British officials are expected to take part in this third round of talks, dedicated to the three divorce issues and technical problems such as the status of goods crossing borders after Brexit day.
The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, 21 months before the end of the seven-year budget agreed with David Cameron. But the budget payments would not cover all of Britain’s liabilities, in the eyes of EU negotiators. Brussels thinks the total Brexit bill is much higher, with estimates of about €75bn, including the UK’s share of pension liabilities and unpaid bills.
So far EU member states agree that the UK should pay for what are deemed “British liabilities” and are in no rush for a divorce deal in October. One EU diplomat said many countries were ready to wait until the end of the year for the divorce deal, rather than the early autumn as the British had hoped. “We are ready to let the October deadline pass by.”
So here we are with incredibly tough negotiations for many years to come with the party on the opposite side of the table having so many axes to grind that it will be a wonder if anything is ever agreed.
In an exclusive interview with Prospect Magazine, Davis rejected the idea that the European Union will seek to punish Britain: “It’s highly unlikely—you’re talking tiny fractions of a per cent—that the EU will stick to a punitive line.” Not when “we are Germany’s fastest growing market—we’re their biggest export market within the EU.”
It is important that he succeeds in these negotiations, not only for the sake of the country but for his own barely concealed desire to one day be Prime Minister. Would he consider running for the leadership again? “I imagine there are narrow circumstances where I might” was his reply.
Britain’s EU membership is an issue Davis has been thinking about for “the thick end of 30 years.” Initially in favour of membership, he came to believe in leaving the EU having decided that attempts to reform the Union never work. “Einstein once said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. And I’ve decided not to be insane anymore.”
He continued: “It took the EU nearly 6 years—70 months—to do a free trade deal with Singapore. Not a very complicated country. It took New Zealand 11 months to strike its deal with Singapore. The EU is like a sumo wrestler: it doesn’t move very fast!”
Davis is not without his detractors. His former chief of staff at the Brexit Department launched an extraordinary tirade against his old boss saying he had witnessed him being “drunk, bullying and inappropriate”.
In a stream of early-morning tweets, James Chapman made a series of astonishing claims about the man leading Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU, including that he:
“Leered” over Labour MP Diane Abbott while allegedly “drunk”
Has been “working 3 day week since day one”
Keeps former Ukip leader Nigel Farage on “speed dial”
Could get easy rides in BBC interviews because of close relationships with top presenters
Conducted extraordinary outbursts against foreign leaders
Mr Davis was branded “disgusting” and “misogynist” by Labour MPs after a leaked text message showed he had suggested MP Diane Abbott was not attractive enough to kiss. A spokesperson for Mr Davis said at the time he was sorry for any offence caused and that the message was a “self- evidently jocular and private exchange with a friend”.
Davis now faces the new parliamentary term with MPs and peers back in Westminster, slightly tanned and with pencils sharpened. They’re all set to scrutinise the government’s flagship Brexit legislation, the Great Repeal Bill, which was officially put to parliament on September 7th and there is set to be a battle royal. Davis will set out the government’s position in the Commons before the bill is debated. Here are four Brexit topics you might want to brush up on:
How’s the economy doing?
There’s good news and bad news.
A recent survey of British manufacturers says firms are exporting more to the EU than they were this time last year. It’s been suggested that a weaker pound – which makes UK exports relatively cheaper abroad – is behind the rise. But the fact that sterling is struggling also pushes up the cost of everyday items for British consumers. Inflation is now at 2.6% – up from just 0.8% in June 2016 and firms are still worried about falling demand for their products from UK customers. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that business investment in the UK economy grew by just 0.1% between the first and second quarter of this year and spending by consumers didn’t grow at all in that time.
What’s happening with the divorce bill?
One of the toughest questions in the Brexit debate is who owes what when we leave. In July, Nigel Farage, one of the foremost proponents of Brexit, said that the UK wouldn’t have to pay the EU anything after 2020. We fact checked him on this at the time, and showed that his argument didn’t stack up. His employer, LBC, later made clear that his comment was “not accurate”.
In recent days, the issue of what we could owe the EU after Brexit has surfaced again. Michel Barnier, said recently that there had been “no decisive progress” on the question. David Davis fired back, claiming that the EU were not being as “flexible and pragmatic” as Britain.
So as yet, we don’t know what the divorce bill – if one materialises – will look like.
What do we know about migration?
The number of EU citizens leaving the UK is already up, and the number of new arrivals is down. Last month, we looked at the most recent data, which shows a 40% fall in net migration from the EU since the Brexit vote. What’s less clear is what will happen to the three million EU nationals who want to continue living and working in the UK after Brexit.
The government said in June that after we leave the EU, “we will create new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens resident here before our exit”, and that “qualifying EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status”. Once an individual qualifies under that system, they will be given indefinite leave to remain. But in an article co-written by fellow members of the European Parliament, one of the EU’s key Brexit coordinators, Guy Verhofstadt, described the UK’s offer to EU nationals as a “damp squib”.
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said in July that most of the cabinet agrees that EU citizens should be free to work in Britain during the “transition period”, which could last a number of years.
What’s going on with the European Court of Justice?
In August, the government set out its position on what our future relationship with the European Court of Justice might look like.
In many ways, the government’s papers raise more questions than they answer. Interestingly, they leave open the possibility that ECJ rulings could find their way into UK law after Brexit.
Here is a sneak peek at both sides of the table:
Michel Barnier, European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator
A politician with a wealth of experience in national and European politics, former French Minister and Commission Vice-President Michel Barnier will lead the Commission’s Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK. The appointment was badly received amongst elements of the UK press, as Barnier is mostly remembered for his role as Single Market Commissioner (2010-2014), during which time he brought forward a number of legislative initiatives for the financial sector, such as the establishment of the new banking union as a response to the financial crisis.
In his long political career Barnier has held portfolios in national and European politics including foreign affairs, agriculture, regional policy, institutional reforms and internal market and services. He is very well connected, both at EU level and amongst individual Member States. Given his past experience with the UK, his appointment by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was seen as a sign the EU was prepared to adopt a tough stance during the negotiations.
Barnier will officially begin his work from 1st October, following which it will be become clear whether the Council or the Commission takes the lead role in the negotiation process.
Didier Seeuws, Council Special Taskforce Chief Negotiator
A Belgian diplomat and former advisor and later Chief of Staff to previous Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014), Seeuws has been a diplomat since 1989, having worked in Washington on economic and trade affairs, as well as in the Belgian Permanent Representation to the EU, where he was Deputy Permanent Representative. With Donald Tusk taking over the Presidency, Seeuws was appointed as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.
The appointment of Seeuws to his current role was seen by the European Commission as a ‘power grab’ on the part of the Council, following conflicting legal advice on which organisation should take the lead. The Commission will nevertheless be closely involved, especially as a repository of expertise, whose knowledge of legislation and the Treaties is far superior to that of the Council.
A key concern of the Commission was, reportedly, that the Council might give the UK greater flexibility during the negotiations, which could set a precedent for other countries considering leaving the EU. If that was indeed a concern, the appointment of Michel Barnier to lead the negotiations on the Commission’s side has certainly conveyed that message.
Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliament chief negotiator on Brexit
A veteran politician and a familiar face both inside and outside the EU – in itself a rarity – Guy Verhofstadt’s appointment made immediate waves, despite the fact that the European Parliament will most likely have the least power in the Brexit negotiations. One of the few politicians in the European Quarter who can demonstrate charisma and a flair for oratory, Verhofstadt is an avowed federalist.
The current Leader of the centrist ALDE group of Liberal MEPs, Verhofstadt has been involved in politics since the early 70s, first as a student. In 1978 he was elected in the Belgian Parliament and served three times as Belgian Prime Minister (1999-2008). He has been an MEP since 2009.
His appointment made waves and was seen as a provocation in the eyes of his Eurosceptic parliamentary colleagues. Nigel Farage, with whom Verhofstadt has often hotly debated in the European Parliament, stated that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation,” while leader of the ECR political group of Tory MEPs Syed Kamall called the appointment “a stitch-up”.
Despite all the noise, it is unclear how much actual power and influence the Parliament will have in the Brexit negotiations. The Constitutional Affairs Committee will take the lead on behalf of the Parliament and it is expected that a special task force on Brexit will be set up, which Verhofstadt will lead. It can also be expected that the Parliament, in choosing a strong personality to lead the negotiations on its part, is hoping to be more influential in the Brexit process. This comes following the wrangling between the Commission and the Council over which gets to lead on the process.
David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
A veteran politician and a former Tory leadership candidate, David Davis is strongly Eurosceptic and is seen as belonging to the right of the Conservative Party, although he is on the progressive side when it comes to issues such as civil liberty. Davis made a comeback (his last frontbench post as Shadow Home Secretary was in 2008) in Theresa May’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a newly created position immediately dubbed ‘Brexit Secretary’. His appointment a clear overture by Mrs May to the Leave camp.
Earlier this year, Davis elaborated on his views on what relationship the UK would have if it left the European Union. Writing for the Daily Telegraph, he rejected the idea that the UK would have to adopt a Norwegian or Swiss model, noting that the country would negotiate a bespoke deal to suit its circumstances, adding that this is what countries like Norway and Switzerland had done. In an article for Conservative Home, he emphasised the need for an export-led growth strategy and expressed his belief that Brexit would enable the UK to “take back control of trade”, as striking free trade deals would be less rigid without the need to find a compromise among 28 states. In the same article, he was also in favour of the UK taking its time to trigger Article 50 in order to develop its negotiating strategy, also consulting broadly among stakeholders.
Davis has built a reputation as a highly competent political operator and will certainly be a hard negotiator in the process of the UK’s disentanglement from the EU.
Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The appointment of the colourful former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to the role of Foreign Secretary was seen as the first surprise appointment of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet. Johnson, one of the leading figures of the Leave camp in the EU referendum campaign, saw his party leadership bid abruptly stopped after his referendum ally Michael Gove announced his leadership candidacy. The Foreign Secretary will not only be a key negotiator in coming to a deal with EU member states, but following the referendum, can also be seen as senior voice of the Vote Leave Campaign in cabinet.
Success in his new, high-profile, yet challenging post, could mean that Johnson’s leadership ambitions might make a comeback.
Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade
Dr Liam Fox has returned to the frontbench as a favourite of the Tory grassroots – illustrating Theresa May’s efforts to unite her party. The remit of his new department will be interesting, as traditionally the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) ‘sells’ the UK to other nations Dr Fox’s appointment demonstrates Mrs May’s consideration that maintaining these trading relations is critical to making Brexit work.
The Brexit department will be delivering the EU trade deal, so Dr Fox may be charged with producing frameworks for trade deals which the PM will sign off. However, this leaves the FCO in something of a grey area, possibly creating tensions between Dr Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson where their responsibilities potentially overlap.
Oliver Robbins CBE, Permanent Secretary
Oliver Robbins has been made Permanent Secretary for the Department for Exiting the EU, responsible for supporting EU negotiations and establishing the relationship between the UK and the EU. As Permanent Secretary he will provide the most senior support to ministers and the wider European and Global Issues Secretariat.
A well-known face within the Civil Service, he originally joined as a graduate entrant in 1996 and has spent time in HM Treasury and Downing Street. Robbins was also Director General of the Civil Service from January 2014 to September 2015, and Deputy National Security Adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. Prior to his latest appointment, Robbins was Second Permanent Secretary for Borders, Immigration and Citizenship, an apparent sign that Oliver Letwin – the ‘Brexit Minister’ of the new unit in the Cabinet Office – is going to prioritise free movement of people in the negotiations process.
Robbins is a highly experience Civil Servant, with government and international negotiating experience that makes him suited to the challenging tasks ahead.