To say that Brexit Secretary David Davis is prone to the occasional gaffe is one of those examples of stating the bleeding obvious. It is for catching the giveaway asides so beloved of DD that those working on The Andy Marr Show (tm) devised interview transcripts - well, maybe not officially, perhaps. And this tendency to open mouth and insert one of his Plates of Meat has now done the UK another serious disservice.
After Theresa May’s crack of dawn capitulation in Brussels last Friday, and the realisation by those in the Tory Party for whom any yielding to the hated Eurocrats is anathema that the spin was unravelling and we were giving the EU side exactly what they had demanded in the first place, Davis must have thought he had to say something. Sadly, the something he came out with only served to make matters worse.
As the Evening Standard has reported, Davis claimed that the deal signed last Friday was not legally binding. Yah-boo, Euro suckers, we won! DD told Marr “It [the “divorce payment”] is conditional on an outcome. I am afraid that wasn't quite right … It is conditional. It is conditional on getting an implementation period. Conditional on a trade outcome … No deal means that we won't be paying the money”.
This has, to no surprise at all gone down like the proverbial cup of cold sick elsewhere in the EU, not least with the Irish, who believed that as they were negotiating in good faith, so were their opposite numbers in Westminster. So Davis’ foolish gaffe has had one consequence: any chance of there actually being a get-out clause is going to get sealed up good and tight - so when the Brexit moment comes, there won’t be one.
European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt put it directly: “Remarks by David Davis that Phase one deal last week not binding were unhelpful & undermines trust. EP text will now reflect this & insist agreement translated into legal text ASAP #Brexit … After @DavidDavisMP’s unacceptable remarks, it’s time the UK government restores trust. These amendments will further toughen up our resolution”.
To that, David Allen Green, who has been casting a mildly sceptical eye on proceedings, had to admit “Crowing about the ‘sufficient Progress’ document being ‘legally non-binding’ may become the latest of a number of serious unforced errors by UK ministers on Brexit. Idiotic, needless, self-inflicted setback”. And then Davis woke up.
Blustering “Pleasure, as ever, to speak to my friend @guyverhofstadt - we both agreed on the importance of the Joint Report. Let's work together to get it converted into legal text as soon as possible”, the sound of hands striking foreheads could be heard across Whitehall and well beyond. Jon Worth could only manage “You’ve royally cocked up this week. Better to stay silent until the summit!” As if DD could manage that.
When David Davis said he didn’t need to be particularly clever to do his job, some might have given him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was joking. They won’t be now.