Following his accompanying Theresa May to her daybreak capitulation in Brussels on Friday, Brexit Secretary David Davis today appeared before the inquisition of the host on The Andy Marr Show (tm). Here, he attempted to map out how negotiations would proceed, soothe frayed Tory nerves, and have a dig at his Labour shadow Kier Starmer, who had the disadvantage of batting first on a sticky track.
And whatever spin was applied by his supporters in the retelling, this was one campaign that turned out not necessarily to his advantage. Davis may have appeared to get off lightly, but as ever, the giveaway is in the show’s interview transcripts, now online (see HERE). These show one act of blatant hypocrisy, and another of significant dishonesty.
Davis got his dig at Starmer in early, telling Marr “you just had Kier Starmer on here promising effectively that a Labour government would continue paying large sums of money. We’re not going to do that. That’s the promise we did make”. And, as Jon Stewart might have observed, two things here.
One, Starmer said that, as Norway (for instance) makes payments into the EU budget, “there may have to be payments”. How that becomes “promising” and “large sums” I will leave to others to decide. And two, Davis also said this, although it sounded at the time almost like an afterthought: “Then we’ll be out and the rest will be probably in a long tail, but we haven’t actually done the profile yet of that, you know. It will be a long time, maybe go on for many, many years but quite small sums”.
“The rest” was referring to, er, payments that the UK will carry on making. David Davis confirmed that those payments will “go on for many, many years”. And sadly, we were not given any idea of what “quite small sums” meant. Given that his opposite number did not make the promise that Davis claimed he did will only increase voters’ scepticism.
Then came a sleight of hand as Davis claimed “‘No divergence’ would have meant actually taking cut and paste rules … ‘Full alignment’ means … we’ll meet the outcomes but not do it by just copying or doing what the European Union does”. This is another way of saying “Switzerland” rather than “Norway” - the pretence that it would be our own law.
And then came the whopper. After Marr put it to Davis that “The Taoiseach thinks that he has got that full alignment in his back pocket. That is an absolutely firm promise from Theresa May and yourself and the British government. He may be watching this. Can you look in the camera and say that we absolutely commit ourselves to that?” the reply was that it was only about a “frictionless border”. It wasn’t.
As the Guardian had already reported, “Informed sources say the Dublin view is that the two paragraphs [49 and 50] combined limit the possibility of the UK operating under WTO rules and instead apply a regime very close to the existing rules”. Apply a régime. No ifs, no buts, no conditional statement, no get-out clause.
David Davis blustered moderately well this morning. But his claims that there is nothing binding on the UK Government, that we will somehow not stick to EU rules, and won’t be paying into EU budgets, are clearly bust. Fire extinguisher for the Brexit Secretary!