Doubts on whether Brexit deal can be finalised following minister’s resignation

David Davis’ resignation might mean Theresa May could fail to control a majority in Parliament in order see a Brexit deal through

From left to right: George Vella, Carm Mifsud Bonnici, Aaron Farrugia, Vanni Xuereb
From left to right: George Vella, Carm Mifsud Bonnici, Aaron Farrugia, Vanni Xuereb

The resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis could "open a Pandora’s box" for the UK as it tries to negotiate its exit from the European Union, local politicians and European Union experts have told MaltaToday.

Davis resigned on Sunday, saying he did not believe in the Brexit strategy being adopted by the government. He said he could not accept the "soft Brexit" stance agreed to between ministers on Friday, which proposes a “UK-EU free trade area”, governed by a “common rule book”.

The UK government has said that Davis will be replaced by Housing Minister Dominic Raab.

Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds Aaron Farrugia said that beyond the personality politics involved, the real issue was the attainment of results, and whether the Brexit deal ultimately goes through.

“I became aware of the dynamic in the past few weeks: Davis was in a position in which he could either counter May’s plans, or leave,” Farrugia said, noting that the resignation did not catch him totally by surprise.

The concern now, he said, was whether May would have the numbers in Parliament to allow negotiations to be finalised. The UK government said earlier this year that there will be “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons on the Brexit deal negotiated with the European Union.

Farrugia said that while Davis was in charge of the negotiations, May had been taking more of a lead in plotting the way forward. “Does she command the necessary majority in the House of Commons in order to finalise the deal? That is my only concern,” he said.

“If she does maintain the majority, the deal will go through. But if not… it’s a Pandora’s box.”

Farrugia’s concerns were echoed by Vanni Xuereb, head of the Malta-EU Steering Action Committee (MEUSAC).

“Obtaining a majority depends on the votes of the party members within the House of Commons… how will the sentiment expressed by Davis [in his resignation letter] reflect on the government’s position? Will May have the numbers in Parliament? There are many questions…”

Xuereb said the UK government’s current infighting was weakening the country’s position in talks, and making things harder for the EU. He said he was concerned about the repercussions the resignation could have on the talks.

“It is in the interest of the EU for the UK to have a strong and clear position on Brexit, in order for negotiations to take place.”

Following last Friday’s meeting, May gave the impression that she had all of her cabinet on board, Xuereb said. “Clearly she does not. The accusations being made by Davis are serious, and even though he’s not trying to harm the government, his position is very clear.”

Moreoever, Xuereb said that while Brexit negotiations were meant to be reaching their final stages by now, it was clear that there were still a number of difficulties.

He questioned whether the appointment of a staunch Brexiter in Davis’ place would be enough to accommodate everyone within the party. “Junior ministers resigned together with Davis, but whether further resignations are to be expected depends on whether all members of the party will be satisfied with the new minister.”

More resignations sure to follow

Former foreign minister George Vella said that Davis’ resignation would likely trigger more resignations from the cabinet, including May herself.

Similarly, former shadow foreign minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici said he expects more resignations.

“The move might trigger other ministers, who shared the same opinions as Davis, to qui… I do think there will be other resignations,” Mifsud Bonnici said, adding that consequences also depend on who will be taking Davis’ place.

Since Vella and Mifsud Bonnici gave their comments to MaltaToday, Steve Baker, Davis' junior Brexit minister, also handed his resignation.

Davis' resignation is further complicated by the fact that there were a significant number of people working under his direction, Vella said.

He pointed out that since May had not supported Brexit herself, there was a constant battle between the two, adding that while Davis was leading the negotiations, his letter indicated that he felt he was “bending over backwards throughout the process”.

Vella said that, ultimately, the UK government was not clear on which form of Brexit it wanted to take.

Mifsud Bonnici highlighted that the latest development would create further difficulties, on top of those May’s cabinet is already dealing with.

He said he felt there were “mixed messages” on whether Davis would resign or not prior to him doing so. “Even before the meeting on Friday, it was clear that the prime minister was in a difficult position. There appear to be difficulties in the cabinet, and moments of tension.”