I’m going to let you all into a secret. I don’t dislike David Davis. I do have a problem with him, however, beyond a difference of opinion over Brexit.
Where the Foreign Secretary blatantly takes position merely to further his personal interests and the Trade Secretary engages in pure delusion about the state of the world, David Davis at least appears to be following a logical path from his own past positions (even if one almost inevitable consequence is ID cards, which he once resigned from Parliament to oppose).
The problem is that we have this peculiar notion that people who are capable of getting selected for and then winning a parliamentary seat (a particular set of skills) also make good negotiators (a quite different set of skills). Putting politicians in charge of actual negotiations (rather than establishing desirable directions for them) is, therefore, quite crazy.
And it is evident Mr Davis is not a negotiator. That is my problem with him, beyond his support for policies I believe are profoundly damaging (but to which he is entitled in a democracy). For over a year now, Mr Davis has been “negotiating” and even his own side’s position remains entirely unclear. He is obviously hopeless at this, and therefore shouldn’t be doing it.
One obvious example is the quite astonishing failure to apply to join EFTA. This is the free trade alliance of which the UK was a member before it joined the EEC in the first place, and which would provide significant clarity on what its trade relationship with the EU would look like post-Brexit.
And here is the thing – merely applying does not mean the UK has to go through with it and join. But it would put the option clearly on the table, potentially to operate from April 2019, this giving the UK some leverage that it will not have to walk away with “no deal”. It would, at the very least, give the EU side something to work with in terms of a future trading relationship which could then be turned into workable solutions on other issues such as citizens’ rights and the Irish border.
It defies belief that the application has not been made at this late stage. It is basic negotiating strategy. The UK needs some negotiators!