The news broke a short time ago that David Davis has resigned as Secretary of State of Exiting the European Union.
His resignation comes after several previous bouts of rumours that he had been on the brink of quitting, and he was evidently unhappy with various aspects of the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit. Davis certainly is not alone in that unhappiness – as ConservativeHome revealed on Sunday morning, 60 per cent of Conservative Party members responding to our snap survey believe that Theresa May’s Chequers plan is a bad deal for the UK, and do not support the proposals.
Before the formal letters were released, the first insight into the thought process underlying his decision came from Sarah O’Grady, Social Affairs Correspondent of the Daily Express, who broke the news and happens to be married to Stewart Jackson, the former MP for Peterborough who was (until the resignation) Davis’s Special Adviser.
O’Grady tweeted that “DD decided he couldn’t sellout his own country”, that he “wants to honour manifesto promises to Britons. [He] Couldn’t collude with civil servants and Remainers to undermine Brexit” and he “put country before Party” in an “agonising decision”.
A source close to Davis tells me that:
“He quit on a point of principle and has put the national interest first…he doesn’t believe the policy is right for our country so could not therefore sell it in the UK or EU.”
Davis’s letter to the Prime Minister, laying out his reasons in more detail, can be found here. It lays out the history of several disagreements on policy, his reasons for staying despite those disagreements, and, crucially, the basis on which he has now decided that staying was no longer the right thing to do:
‘At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver…on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market. I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely…the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.
The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the “common rule book” policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.’
In short, pretty damning stuff. Other reports suggest that the high-handed and sometimes humiliating way in which Davis and others felt they were treated by the Prime Minister helped to bring things to a head, but it’s evident that Chequers was the final straw. May’s reply to him (which we have reproduced here) restates Friday’s position, and reiterates her disagreement with him on the point.
Shortly after the first resignation, Steve Baker – a Brexit Minister in Davis’s now former department – followed suit. A popular Brexiteer with a true-believer reputation, and a former chairman of the European Research Group now chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, many Eurosceptics viewed Baker as a canary in the mine, whose continued presence assured them that the Government was honouring its promises to effect a clean and complete exit from the EU.
Three questions now present themselves. Will any other ministers follow Davis and Baker out of the door? Who will May appoint as the new Brexit Secretary? And, bluntly, will she get the chance to appoint a replacement at all?