David Davies MP: I'm not bigoted, I punched a gay man

Anti-gay-marriage Conservative MP offers unusual evidence of his tolerance: a boxing match with "The Pink Pounder".

David Davies MP made waves over the weekend when he told BBC Radio Wales:

If there are any sort of areas where there isn't full equality with married couples then I'd be more than happy to support making changes to civic ceremonies, so I really don't know why we need to go ahead with this at all.

I think most people are very tolerant and have no problem at all if people are gay but, and I hate to say this in a way because I expect it's going to cause controversy, but I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.

Davies also told the radio station that he was concerned with the knock-on effects of equal marriage, arguing that it would change the way sex education is taught in schools and may lead to churches being forced by the ECHR to hold same-sex ceremonies.

Yesterday, Davies doubled down on his statement, and added that he wasn't bigoted in thinking it. He tweeted:

I'm not even angry anymore, because that it is amazing. This isn't just "I can't be homophobic, some of my best friends are gay"; it's "I can't be homophobic because I once beat up a gay man". (For what it's worth, Davies won the fight against "Britain's only openly gay boxer", Charles "The Pink Pounder" Jones.)

Other reasons Davies has given for not being homophobic include:

Interestingly, Davies has previously written, in a letter to Stonewall, that he is in favour of allowing churches to perform gay marriages, and that the only reason he is against the current proposals is because they may lead to churches being forced to officiate. Given the draft bill (and thus the legal language which would form the basis of any potential appeal to the ECHR) hasn't even been published yet, that really is a rather odd position to take.

Christina Odone also wants you to know about all her gay friends:

I'm a Tatchellite – full of admiration for the indefatigable human rights campaigner. I have close gay friends, many of whom have been in civil partnerships that make most heterosexual marriages look brittle. I supported civil partnerships. But…

I'm considering starting a some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay counter on this issue.

Update: Removed quotes in headline, added Christina Odone.

"In the blue corner…": Davies fights Jones.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.