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21 May 2014updated 07 Sep 2021 11:47am

DO NOT PUBLISH: David Davis resigns from his post as Brexit secretary

Davis said he could not agree to the government's backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border without a legally enforceable end date.

By Patrick Maguire

David Davis has resigned as Brexit secretary over the government’s backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border.

After a fractious meeting of Theresa May’s inner cabinet this morning, Davis said he could not agree to the plan if a legally enforceable end date was not included in the text agreed by cabinet.

It will see the whole UK retain elements of the customs union, namely the EU’s common external tariff, and remain in close regulatory alignment with Brussels beyond 2020 in the event that a free trade deal or customs arrangement that will maintain an open border cannot be agreed. 

Brexiteers fear that the decision to approve a backstop without a time-limit would effectively keep Britain in an indefinite transition period that would prevent it diverging from EU regulations and striking free trade deals.

His decision to quit follows a bitter row over the wording of the draft proposal, authored by Olly Robbins, May’s chief Brexit negotiator, and circulated among ministers earlier this week. The prime minister had publicly committed to time-limiting the backstop but the text agreed by the inner cabinet this morning did not include a firm end date, which has been ruled out by Downing Street in the face of extreme opposition from the EU27. 

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Instead it said the backstop would “only be in place until a future customs arrangement can be introduced”, which sparked bitter recriminations from Tory Leavers and intense resistance from Davis, who stressed during a speech in Westminster last night that the prime minister had agreed to include a time limit. Sarah O’Grady, the wife of Stewart Jackson, had tweeted before this morning’s meeting: “Backstop not backed up by DD. Crunch time. 9am.”

A defined time limit is anathema to Brussels and particularly Ireland, who believe it must be permanent to ensure that future changes in UK government policy cannot result in a hard border. 

Davis’s resignation could result in an exodus of other Brexiteers from the top ranks of government. Steve Baker and Suella Braverman, his junior ministers who both chaired the European Research Group, are also thought likely to quit. There are also questions over the future of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. 

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