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David Davis: ‘No deal’ is a basic deal

Brexit means Brexit. But ‘no deal’ doesn’t mean ‘no deal’.


The government has long claimed that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. And the prime minister continues to insist she is willing for the UK to walk away from negotiations with ‘no deal’. But whilst ‘Brexit means Brexit’, it turns out that ‘no deal’ doesn’t mean ‘no deal’.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords EU committee yesterday, the Brexit secretary David Davis told peers that, in his mind, ‘no deal’ meant “no free trade deal and no customs arrangements to go with that.” Davis added: “My idea of ‘no deal’ is a basic deal without the bits we really want.”

My idea of ‘no deal’ is a basic deal without the bits we really want

David Davis, Brexit secretary

This is, he said, because it is in the interests of both sides for them to reach an agreement on “fundamental issues” such as aviation and security cooperation. Presumably, Davis sees this to also include withdrawal issues such as citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement. The “bits we really want” beyond these fundamental issues are free trade and ‘frictionless’ customs arrangements. It seems clear from the Brexit secretary’s comments that he agrees with the Home secretary that ‘no deal’ (as in no agreement at all even on those fundamental issues) is actually “unthinkable”.

Davis also clarified his views on an implementation period saying he saw it as “inextricably linked” to the withdrawal agreement. He also said that he envisioned an implementation agreement “in principle” to be reached in the first quarter of next year. However, Davis said the fine detail will come later as the two sides agree a future trade deal.

The Brexit secretary and the prime minister have both indicated previously that they expected to agree a future trade deal with the EU before the UK’s planned withdrawal. They also said that even if the two sides agreed implementation arrangements, they would not be put into practice unless a future trade deal was also agreed.

Government putting transition at risk with deadline to agree final deal

Although Davis admits that a future trade agreement can’t be concluded until the UK is a ‘third country’, he said this could be done right after the withdrawal agreement was done. He also noted this could be a “political agreement” at that point and that this was necessary for Parliament to be able to vote on whether the withdrawal agreement was acceptable.

On this point, the EU seems to have a different take. As Politico reports, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier believes that negotiations on a future trade deal could take three years and that’s if talks get the go-ahead by EU leaders at their December summit. The UK will need to decide how detailed it needs this “political agreement” to be to enact implementation arrangements.

The shape of the future relationship deal is another area of difference between the two sides. In her Florence speech, Theresa May said the UK wanted a “bespoke” deal with the EU and dismissed agreeing a free trade deal like the EU-Canada one and single market membership like Norway has. So far, the extent of the government’s vision for a future relationship deal is not like Canada and not like Norway.

However, Barnier has suggested that these are the two most viable options on the table and that there is no in-between. According to Politico, Barnier said: “There is no combination possible between a free trade deal and internal market membership. Out is out.”

The government has less than 18 months to convince the EU otherwise.


Image: © lewishamdreamer/Flickr
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