David Davis quits over May’s soft Brexit plan

Brexit exit: Davis is the sixth minister to resign from government in eight months. © Getty

Was the UK’s Brexit secretary right to resign? Three days after the government finally agreed on what it wants from the EU, the man in charge of negotiations has quit.

Late last night, after three days of rumours and calls to unite around Prime Minister Theresa May, MP David Davis resigned from his job as secretary of state for exiting the European Union.

On Friday, the government had agreed to negotiate the “softest possible Brexit” after a long summit at the prime minister’s country estate. But many Brexiteers, including Davis, are unhappy with the plan. Here are its five key points:

1/ A “common rulebook” for goods and agriculture. In the EU, everyone follows the same regulations when it comes to making and selling products. Under this plan, the UK promises “continued harmonisation” with those rules.

2/ A new customs arrangement. The UK cannot set its own import tariffs while in the EU, and so the government proposed a “Facilitated Customs Arrangement”. This would mean that the UK applies its own tariffs to goods destined to stay in the UK, and EU tariffs to goods which were passing through to Europe.

3/ No hard border in Northern Ireland. One of the benefits of this system is that it would, in theory, prevent strong border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland — something that one Irish politician warned would be a “clear and present danger” to the peace process in the two countries.

4/ “Joint jurisdiction” of UK and EU courts. Since the referendum, Theresa May has promised Brexiteers that the UK will no longer have to listen to the Court of Justice of the European Union. In order to keep this promise, the government proposed that UK and EU courts would work together on any agreements made between them.

5/ Free movement curbed. Concern over immigration is thought to be the main reason that UK voters backed Brexit. The government says that its plan will “end free movement, giving the UK back control over how many people enter the country”. However, EU and UK citizens will still be able to travel to study and work in each other’s countries.

Was Davis right to resign?


Yes, say some. The plan is a betrayal of Brexit voters, who wanted a clean break — not a fudge that leaves the UK in the EU in all but name. What’s more, Europe will never accept it; the UK cannot just cherry pick the best bits of the single market. How could Davis negotiate something he does not believe in? Stepping down, as one Brexiteer put it, was “principled and brave.”

It will only make things worse, argue others. The UK only has three months to agree a final deal with the EU. It is reckless and absurd for its lead negotiator to resign. Besides, a soft Brexit will allow the UK and the EU to keep trade as easy for businesses as possible. That is good for the economy and good for the country. He should have put those duties first.

You Decide

  1. Was resigning the right decision?
  2. Do you think the plan will satisfy the 17 million people who voted to leave the EU?


  1. Write your own wishlist of the top five things you want to happen when the UK leaves the EU.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of Michel Barnier, the man in charge of negotiating Brexit on the EU’s side. Decide whether you would accept or reject the UK government’s proposals. Write a paragraph explaining your reasons.

Some People Say...

“The EU is the old Soviet Union dressed in Western clothes.”

Mikhail Gorbachev (former leader of the Soviet Union)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Theresa May’s cabinet all agreed to the plan during a long summit at the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, on Friday. However, just before midnight last night, Brexit secretary and lead negotiator David Davis resigned. He had been at a meeting at 10 Downing Street earlier in the day.
What do we not know?
Whether anyone else will resign in protest at the proposals — other Brexiteer ministers, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, are said to be unhappy. (Johnson reportedly compared the plan to “polishing a turd”.) We do not know whether May will now plough on with the plan or decide to make changes. If she does go ahead, it is unclear whether the EU would accept the plan.

Word Watch

Import tariffs
Taxes on goods when they enter a country. For example, the EU recently imposed tariffs of 25% on many imports from America, in response to President Donald Trump’s new tariffs.
Peace process
Ireland and Northern Ireland experienced three decades of conflict between 1968 and 1998, known as “The Troubles”. The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1999, ended the violence.
Court of Justice of the European Union
The CJEU encompasses two EU courts: the general court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It oversees all laws in the EU and its member states, meaning that it has final say over any disputes.
Main reason
According to the British Social Attitudes survey in 2017, around three quarters of people worried about immigration voted to leave in the EU referendum.
Single market
A free trade area within Europe with free movement of goods, capital, services and labour.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.