David Davis ridiculed over Brexit exchange: 'He backtracked more times than a mountaineer with no map'

'That was then, this is now! Ha, ha, ha, ha!' says Brexit Secretary over trade deal U-turn

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Thursday 25 January 2018 16:47
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David Davis humiliated by Hillary Benn over Brexit negotiation predictions

The Brexit Secretaryhas been accused of backtracking “more times than a mountaineer with no map” during an excruciating bout of questioning over trade deal timelines.

At a Brexit Select Committee hearing, chair Hilary Benn urged David Davis to admit he was wrong to say the UK would be able negotiate a free trade area “massively larger than the EU” within two years of exiting the bloc.

But Mr Davis repeatedly shirked the question, laughing throughout the exchange as he claimed the comments were made before he was a minister. He later added: “That was then, this is now.”

The MP for Haltemprice and Howden made the prediction on 11 July 2016. He was appointed to the Brexit Department just two days later.

He said at the time: “I would expect the new Prime Minister, on 9 September 2016, to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them would be concluded within 12 to 24 months.”

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said Mr Davis “must think we are all stupid”, adding the British public should also have the right to change their minds.

“David Davis today backtracked more times than a mountaineer who has no map, no compass and no idea where he’s going,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

“The Brexit Secretary must think we are all stupid. As it becomes clear that the Brexit he and others promised is not deliverable, people have every right to keep an open mind.”

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said Mr Davis’ performance at the hearing showed a transitional deal was “far from secure”.

“The bickering between David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg is the starkest evidence yet that a Brexit transitional deal is far from secure under this government,” he said on Wednesday.

Read the full exchange below:

Hilary Benn: In July 2016 you wrote that within two years, and I quote, ‘We can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.’ Now, that isn’t going to happen, is it? Within the two years?

David Davis: Well, we’re not allowed to start [negotiating] until the point of departure. That is 29th of March, 2019. So we start then.

Hilary Benn: But, just for the record, you did actually write, ‘I would expect the new Prime Minister, on September the 9th 2016, to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them would be concluded within 12-24 months.’ So, two years. Just for the record, that was two years from 2016.

David Davis: What date was that [written]? I think that was before I was a minister.

Hilary Benn: Just before you were a minister.

David Davis: Right, so that was then, this is now! Ha, ha, ha, ha!

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