On Monday morning David Davis, Secretary of State for Leaving The European Union (or Brexit Secretary if you prefer), gave a speech to the House of Commons detailing the work of his department so far.
The speech was quickly attacked by members of all political parties under the accusation that his update on Brexit lacked detail. Yvette cooper, former shadow home secretary dismissed it as “an astonishingly empty statement”, Anna Soubry, a Tory backbencher, stated that “parliament was none the wiser” about the government’s plans.
It is true that the speech was astonishingly empty of any actual detail or indication of the government’s position on what they are seeking from the EU. In fact, the only leaning Davis gave resulted in a dismissal from the Prime Minister only a few days later. This was a result of his claim that it was “improbable” that the UK would retain access to the single market if it involved seceding some control in immigration, a stance that Downing Street dismissed as his “own personal opinion” and “not official policy” . This is not surprising given Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, recently stated it was likely the UK would “seek a free trade agreement with the EU”. These are two opposing views but they do have one thing in common: both points were declared “unofficial policy” by Downing Street.
But this contradiction between Davis, Fox and Downing Street gives us a good indication of why Davis’s Monday speech was so empty. The policy for leaving the EU is undecided. The fact of the matter is Article 50 is not going to be triggered until next year and the reason for that is obvious. It gives the Conservatives time to decide what they want from the EU and to plan their negotiating strategy. David Davis is not going to give any definitive picture of what post EU UK will look like because he knows he can’t. Firstly the conservatives haven’t decided what they will aim to negotiate and secondly the negotiations haven’t determined what they will get.
If you are wondering what an EU deal will look like you need to look for the “Red Lines” of what the government certainly want to achieve. These red lines are likely to be policies that have been confirmed by the PM. So far the only red line has been a degree of control over immigration but as we move closer to the triggering of article 50 it is highly likely more red lines will become apparent. But for now specific outcomes for the negotiations are unlikely to be mentioned.
Davis gave a very pointless speech filled with rhetoric but Davis’s main job right now is to build up his department and fill the shortage of diplomats so that when the time comes he and his department are ready to negotiate for the country. Right now however it’s down to the conservatives as a whole to decide what to negotiate for, so the lack of detail in this speech is hardly a surprise. Detail is something that the Conservative party as a whole have to decide on, before Davis’s negotiations can begin.