After the Brexit Committee this morning, I think it’s safe to say David Davis should never be allowed to speak in public again

During a thorough grilling from Hilary Benn and Jacob Rees-Mogg, it became clear that even David Davis doesn’t believe what David Davis says

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 24 January 2018 16:24
Comments
David Davis grilled by Jacob Rees-Mogg at Brexit committee

History does not recall whether legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum attempted to keep a straight face when he claimed, “Yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling the truth.”

To David Davis’s partial credit as he did the same at Wednesday morning’s Brexit Select Committee hearing, no such attempt was made.

Indeed, as Hilary Benn asked him whether what he said 18 months ago could possibly have been even remotely true, Davis did have the self-awareness to add the suffix “ha, ha, ha, ha” to his ridiculous answer.

Real life being, as ever, much, much funnier than any attempt at parody, we turn again to the verbatim transcript:

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!

The words in question, by the way, were written two days before David Davis became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Not long before that, he had claimed that the first thing a British prime minister would do would be to set up a free trade deal between the UK and Germany, which is impossible under EU law.

A few days after that, he went on Sky News to claim the UK would soon have set up a free trade area “10 times larger” than the EU, which in GDP terms, would be significantly larger than planet Earth itself.

But that’s beside the point.

Not that long ago, the word in Brussels was that the British were so hopelessly unprepared for the Brexit negotiations, so utterly deluded about how the process would work, that senior officials concluded it must be some kind of elaborate White Men Can’t Jump-style bluffing tactic.

Certainly the evidence mounts that David Davis could in fact be some kind of strategic genius. At some point, which may even have occurred by the time you read this, he will have talked such utterly contradictory, patent rubbish for so long he will in fact have liberated himself from all concern that anything he ever says be taken seriously.

There are other theories however.

The sociologist Émile Durkheim once wrote about how a person is a peg on which various masks are hung, but wear a mask too long and it becomes part of the peg.

For a chap who imagines himself to be Einstein and yet has spent two decades without any kind of government job, as was the case with Davis until last summer, it is just possible he has simply forgotten what it must be like not to consider his own life beneath him.

At one point we were treated to him impatiently asking whether a chap called Dr Lorand Bartels, a law fellow at Cambridge University and senior trade adviser to Linklaters, “has a clue what he’s talking about”.

For Bob Arum, by the way, the moral of the story turned out to be, as he once told a Senate congressional hearing: never get drunk and talk to the press.

The lesson for Davis must surely be to never speak in public again. We wait to see if he takes it.

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