David Davis warns EU not to put ‘politics above prosperity’ in Brexit talks
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has warned Germany and other European nations not to “put politics above prosperity” as they negotiate the UK’s split from the EU.
The senior cabinet minister made the plea at an economic conference in Berlin, as he acknowledged talks with the EU remain difficult.
He was silent on the big issue of how much the UK will have to pay Brussels to settle its divorce bill, amid signs Theresa May will attempt to break the deadlock by doubling her offer to around £40bn in the coming weeks.
But Davis delivered a coded warning that Germany and other EU states should beware harming their own economies by putting political considerations first, such as the desire to punish Britain for leaving.
Listing the many economic ties between the UK and Germany, he said: “In the face of those facts I know that no one would allow short term interests to risk those hard-earned gains. Because putting politics above prosperity is never a smart choice.”
Setting out his vision for post-Brexit, Davis stressed the UK government’s hope that a special trade deal can be negotiated, despite leaked EU documents suggesting Britain will only be offered a basic one similar to that struck with Canada.
The document, obtained by the Politico website, spells out how the British government’s rejection of membership of the single market and the customs union leaves the member states with little wriggle room in trade talks.
The paper states that “single market arrangements in certain areas” or the “evolution of our regulatory frameworks” could not be managed within the EU body of law as it stands and therefore the UK would have to be satisfied with a “standard FTA”.
“We will be a third country partner like no other. Much closer than Canada, much bigger than Norway, and uniquely integrated on everything from energy networks to services.
“The key pillar of this will be a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement – the scope of which should beyond any the EU has agreed before.”
At the conference hosted by Süddeutsche Zeitung, he also dismissed the newspaper’s recent claims that “Britain wants to isolate itself” and that the British are “short-sighted islanders”.
“We are the same country we have always been. With the same values and same principles we have always had,” he said.
As Davis made his pitch in Germany, the prime minister was travelling to Sweden for an EU leaders’ summit, where she was expected to meet Donald Tusk, the European Council president, on Friday morning.
May is likely to be pressed for a higher offer of money than the £20bn put forward by the UK already, as Britain faces a two-week deadline to unblock the Brexittalks.
At the meeting, Tusk will warn the prime minister that she cannot take for granted that the other 27 member states will rule in December that there has been “sufficient progress” on the divorce bill in order to move on to talks about trade.
The Guardian has further learned that the 27 member states have sought a legal opinion from the European commission on a possible extension of the two years allowed for talks under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.
The member states do not envision a lengthy extension of the two years, however. One EU diplomat said: “We all have our own domestic political situations to deal with and so I can’t imagine us having unanimity on extending article 50. And this extension would only be if we are near striking a deal and need a few extra weeks or months.”
At the same time, May is coming under pressure from her own Conservative backbenchers not to fix the date of Brexit on 29 March 2019 in her EU withdrawal as it leaves no room for flexibility in the negotiations.
One of their main concerns is that this would give Downing Street no possibility of extending article 50 if parliament has not passed an act approving the withdrawal agreement by then.
In the face of warnings that the government will lose any vote on the issue, David Lidington, the justice secretary, hinted that the government was mulling a concession to head off a Tory revolt.
Asked whether the exit date amendment could be withdrawn, he said: “It’s hypothetical but as the PM said various constructive suggestions have been made during the committee debates about how the bill might be improved and obviously we will listen to ideas coming from colleagues across the house during the bill’s progress in both the Commons and Lords.”
One of the Conservative rebels said he was confident there would be a compromise as the government would almost certainly lose if it put the amendment to a vote, since more than 15 MPs were prepared to defy the whip.
He said the heat of the dispute had reduced since the first day of debate on the EU withdrawal bill earlier in the week, as the government had signalled it was open to discussion on the issue of the exit date.
One possible solution was for the government to fix the date but make clear it would try to extend article 50 if an act of parliament approving the withdrawal agreement was not passed in time for that date.
Following his speech, Davis faced critical questions from journalists. Wolfgang Krach, editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, asked why Britain was leaving the EU if they shared as many values and interests as Davis had claimed. Davis repeated Theresa May’s view that Britain was leaving the EU but not the European Union.
“Every government has periods of turbulence,” Davis responded.
Meanwhile, May also faced questions from the House of Commons public accounts watchdog about whether Whitehall is well enough equipped to deal with the huge task of preparing for Brexit.
A report from the National Audit Office said on Friday that government departments are engaged in more than 300 separate projects, with the business department forced to deal with 69 and the environment department grappling with 43.
Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “This document lays bare the daunting challenge faced by the Civil Service in coordinating Brexit.”
“I question whether Whitehall has the ability to deliver the 313 projects and hundreds of new laws it says are needed. There is a risk that anything non-Brexit related will be neglected.”_ The Guardian
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