David Davis resigns: the Brexit minister’s exit leaves Theresa May on the brink of crisis

The big question is: who else will follow him?

NS

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David Davis has sensationally quit his post as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, throwing Theresa May’s government into chaos.

In his resignation letter, the Brexit Secretary complained of the “progressive dilution” of the Tories' manifesto commitment to leaving the customs union and single market. “The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one,” he wrote. “In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real.”

Davis added that the Prime Minister deserved a minister who was an “enthusiastic believer” in her approach to the negotiations, rather than a “reluctant conscript”. 

Davis had cut an increasingly isolated figure in recent months, having become a peripheral figure in talks with the European Union, as Theresa May and her chief Brexit aide, Olly Robbins, took control of the process.

His repeated threats to resign had weakened his pull around the Cabinet table – one Conservative Remainer recently likened him to Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, who contemplates leaving her husband for a prolonged period before ultimately recanting – and perhaps made Downing Street underestimate the risk that he would go.

The question now is whether other high-level Brexiteers will follow suit. Davis was one of seven cabinet ministers who met at the Foreign Office before the Chequers summit where Theresa May won support for her Brexit deal. The others – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, International Development Minister Penny Mordaunt, Trade Minister Liam Fox, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom – may now feel that they have no alternative but to go the same way. Davis's junior minister Steve Baker, an influential Brexiteer, has already followed him out of the door. 

For Theresa May, it displays the limits of the approach which she used to win over cabinet ministers at Chequers. She returned to her old playbook from the Home Office, sharply limiting access to paperwork and information ahead of the meeting. Crucially, not only mobile phones but special advisers were barred from the cabinet away-day at Chequers, which meant that ministers had to swallow (or reject) the deal en bloc based on their own grasp of the details. (Traditionally an area in which David Davis has not excelled.)

But here's the problem. That approach might have worked to win consent for May’s proposal, it hasn’t been sufficient to maintain it.

Davis might not be the only cabinet minister who finds himself unable to support this deal once the fine print has been scrutinised.

Update: Apologies. Stella Kowalski is the relevant character from Streetcar. The fault was mine.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.