June 07, 2018
Allies of Brexit secretary urge him to remain as row over customs union presents PM with one of her biggest crises yet
David Davis urged not to resign over Brexit backstop
David Davis has been urged by key Brexiter allies not to resign as cabinet tensions over customs plans threaten to reach boiling point.
The Brexit secretary is facing a showdown with Theresa May over a backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland as the inner cabinet meets at Downing Street to thrash out the final details.
Davis is understood to be deeply unhappy about the lack of a firm end date in the agreed text, and rumours are swirling around Westminster that he could quit.
However, one key ally, the former Brexit minister David Jones, urged Davis to stay in place, saying he was one of the UK’s biggest assets at the negotiating table with the EU.
“To contemplate these negotiations continuing without David Davis would be deeply upsetting and deeply dangerous for the country and David Davis needs to stay where he is,” Jones said.
Davis is also understood to be frustrated with the slow pace of decision-making on Brexit, the delay to his Brexit white paper until next month and the government’s failure to decide on customs arrangements.
On Wednesday he did not rule out resigning if the government’s proposals did not have his explicit approval, although he was said to have told friends he would stay and fight the “people trying to box me in”.
The row presents May with one of her biggest crises yet of the Brexit process, with even Tory remain MPs admitting that the departure of Davis – usually regarded as the most loyal of the senior Brexiters – would deeply damage her authority.
Jones, a close ally of the Brexit secretary, told the BBC: “I don’t think David Davis should resign – he’s been outstandingly good at his job, he would be a huge loss to the government and I don’t think that we should contemplate that scenario.
“We need to make sure that David Davis stays at the negotiating table. He’s one of the government’s biggest assets in these negotiations and anything that caused him to leave would be deeply regrettable and deeply damaging for the country.”
Davis is understood to have spoken to the prime minister on Wednesday night. A source described the conversation as “very difficult” and “very stern” on both sides.
Several allies have tweeted about the row, with Sarah O’Grady, the wife of Davis’s chief of staff, Stewart Jackson, publicly confirming his fury, and the broadcaster Iain Dale, a friend for 30 years, saying “the political sands are about to shift. Dramatically.”
Davis helped to clinch agreement on the backstop in the cabinet Brexit subcommitee last month, in the face of objections from other leave supporters including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Both are understood to have concerns over the time limit.
Britain signed up to the idea of a backstop in the deal reached with the EU27 in December, but May rejected a draft presented later by Brussels that would in effect keep Northern Ireland in the single market.
The EU27 has been waiting for the government to publish its alternative draft backstop proposal, which is expected to include all of the UK temporarily applying the EU’s external tariff.
This would result in closer ties to the EU for a limited, indeterminate period, in case other customs arrangements cannot be found. However, Brussels is sceptical of the options Britain has already put on the table.
Brexiters fear that May’s plan would limit the ability of the trade secretary, Liam Fox, to strike new deals with non-EU countries as well as tying the UK to Brussels permanently.
Downing Street had hoped to publish its plans on Thursday morning but it was forced to delay – even though negotiators were already on their way to Brussels – until the row with Davis over a fixed end date is resolved.
Some Brexiters were irked by the fact they received the draft of the detailed backstop proposals only on Wednesday, claiming other key cabinet members, including the chancellor, had been given longer to consider its wording.
No10 is also attempting to head off a series of damaging rebellions in next week’s key Brexit votes by holding talks with leading Tory MPs who voted to remain in the EU.
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