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11 January 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:49pm

No, David Davis, it’s not the EU putting UK businesses at risk

The Brexit secretary is like the footballer who chops down an opponent and then fakes his own agony. 

By James McGrory

The new year is often a time of reassessment, and it is tempting to think that the apparent realisation by the Brexit secretary David Davis that leaving the EU might not all be plain sailing is a consequence of a January political detox. 

Davis wrote to the Prime Minister to complain that EU institutions were warning that, when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, the UK will become a third country under EU law and all benefits of single market and customs union membership will be at risk. The letter, which made the minister look like he was in business’s corner, found its way into the pages of the Financial Times and so landed on the desks of chief executives up and down the land. 

It was swiftly followed by trips to Germany by Davis and the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to deliver a direct plea to the German government to preserve the privileges single market membership gives. Once again the ex-SAS man at DEXEU was daring and hoping to win.  

Yet perhaps Davis needs to take a second look here. Because it seems obvious that the biggest risk to Britain’s economic prosperity does not come from anything the Germans, the French, the Slovenes or indeed any of the other EU member states might do, but from Davis himself.

Like a football player who chops down an opponent and then rolls on the ground in fake agony in the hope of avoiding a penalty, Mr Davis is desperate to shift the blame for the damage his own actions risk. He is the one who is insistent on leaving the single market and the customs union, and yet he is now the one bleating to the German press about the consequences of such a policy. 

This is not a serious way to conduct international negotiations. It will persuade no-one in the Berlin’s Federal Chancellery or in the Elysée Palace. But then, it is not designed to. It is a purely political stratagem for domestic consumption, pretending that all the bad things that could happen are the fault of the nasty foreigners. 

For the lifelong anti-Europeans like Davis, the key issue to deliver on the ideological goal of getting Britain out of Europe. The cost, the risk, the downside are of purely secondary concern. He thinks any price that has to be paid here is worth it if it delivers what he sees as the bigger reward. 

That is a view held sincerely by many people. But is is not the majority opinion. It was not even the majority view in June 2016 and it certainly is not now. There is no will of the people argument in favour of taking Britain out of the singe market and support for this policy is falling as every week goes by. 

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That is why there is now a desperate need to find people and countries to blame and to pretend that all of this is somebody else’s fault.  

James McGrory is the executive director of Open Britain, a campaign group against hard Brexit.