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Government plunged into turmoil as David Davis quits as Brexit Secretary

Government plunged into turmoil as David Davis quits as Brexit Secretary
5 min read

David Davis has resigned as Brexit Secretary, dealing an enormous blow to Theresa May's authority.

In a stunning move which rocked Westminster, the Conservative big-hitter said he had become "a reluctant conscript" to the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy.

His decision to quit came barely 48 hours after the Cabinet appeared to have finally agreed its Brexit strategy, and throws Mrs May's government into chaos.

He was swiftly followed out the door by Brexit minister Steve Baker - and Mr Davis's former department had to deny a string of reports that Suella Braverman was preparing to follow suit.

Mr Davis said in his resignation letter to Mrs May that that agreement struck by the Prime Minister's top team at Chequers last Friday "will make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real".

"I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions," he said.

"Of course this is a complex area of judgement and it is possible that you are right and I am wrong. However, even in that event it seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not just a reluctant conscript.

"While I have been grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, it is with great regret that I tender my resignation from the Cabinet with immediate effect.

The arch-Brexiteer also confirmed in his letter that he had been unhappy with Mrs May's approach to Brexit for months - including on the sequencing of talks with Brussels, attemtps to maintain an open border in Ireland and repeated delays to a white paper setting out the Government's demands.

He said: "At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.

"I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely."

Mr Davis said that the decision in the Chequers agreement for the UK to agree a "common rule book" with Brussels on trading standards "hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense".

In her response, the Prime Minister said: "I am sorry that you have chosen to leave the Government when we have already made so much progress towards delivering a smooth and successful Brexit, and when we are only eight months from the date set in law when the United Kingdom will leave the European Union."

She insisted that the Chequers agreement was "consistent with the mandate of the referendum and with the commitments we laid out in our general election manifesto" to take the UK out of the customs union and single market".

"I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at Cabinet on Friday," she said. "Parliament will decide whether or not to back the deal the Government negotiates, but that deal will undoubtedly mean the returning of powers from Brussels to the United Kingdom.

"The direct effect of EU law will end when we leave the EU. Where the UK chooses to apply a common rulebook, each rule will have to be agreed by Parliament."

Mrs May added: "I am sorry that the Government will not have the benefit of your continued expertise and counsel as we secure this deal and complete the process of leaving the EU, but I would like to thank you warmly for everything you have done over the past two years as Secretary of State to shape our departure from the EU, and the new role the UK will forge on the world stage as an independent, self-governing nation once again."

Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the influential Tory backbench European Research Group, said Mr Davis's departure would make it "very difficult" for the Prime Minister to persuade her MPs to back her.

But he did not agree that Mr Davis's departure inevitably means that Mrs May will leave Downing Street.

"Even Margaret Thatcher - you may have forgotten this - but she had a proposal at one point to require identity cards for people going to football matches," he told BBC Radio 5Live.

"And that got voted down for Conservative MPs who thought it was a not very good idea. Even the greatest of leaders can find that some of their proposals do not command widespread support and have to review them even when they’ve got large majorities."

Labour said the Government was now in "absolute chaos" and that Mrs May had "no authority left".

Party chair Ian Lavery added: "The Prime Minister is in office but not in power. She cannot deliver Brexit and our country is at a complete standstill, while the Tories indulge in their leadership tussling.

"We can’t go on like this. Britain needs a functioning Government."

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