For a long time now, people in Westminster have been speculating as to what might happen if David Davis was to resign, with the assumption that May’s premiership couldn’t survive it. I have always doubted that this was the case, and this morning I am more sure of that than ever. While it is technically possible this could set off a chain of events that ends with May vacating Number 10 pre-March 2019 – this is 2018, anything is possible – I think it is highly unlikely.
For a start, Davis and his department had been sidelined by Downing Street for some time anyhow. I’ve seen some article this morning along the lines of “May’s Brexit plans torpedoed” – bollocks. How does having Davis vacating the job make achieving the soft Brexit May has been gunning for since at least December when the backstop was agreed with the Commission harder? Unless she is defenestrated, of course, but let’s look at how difficult that is. A contest would need to be triggered by the 48 letters to Graham Brady, and then May would have to lose the subsequent vote. It is very likely that she would win it, as there are a lot of Tory MPs scared of what May going at this point means for Brexit and a possible Corbyn premiership. Most of them would rather the devil they know, for now. If she wins, they can’t trigger another contest for a year, which then gives her carte blanche at least within the Conservative Party to go for whatever Brexit is achievable on other fronts. Hell, thinking about it, a vote of contest might even be a good thing for May given the one year rule.
In the midst of writing this, Dominic Raab has become Brexit Secretary. She had to appoint a Brexiteer with enough previous experience to do the trick. She also found one which means she has to reshuffle the cabinet to the least extent possible as well, another bonus. Many will say that appointing Raab will mean hard Brexit is more likely. Wrong – the Brexiteers don’t have a plan, which is crucial, and they have no time left to manoeuvre, which matters even more. Also, most of them don’t really want hard Brexit, really, but have only been shouting about it because they always thought it would have improved the UK’s negotiating strategy (note: it wouldn’t have, even 1%). Putting Raab in keeps the wolves at bay while changing nothing in reality. Another hardcore Brexiteer gets to face reality in Brussels, that’s all.
The only thing to say in conclusion about Davis’ resignation is that it makes Brexit slightly less likely to happen by a small amount. It gives greater heft to the idea that it is impossible in the eyes of some of the public. It may over time shift the polls a couple of notches – but I doubt anything will change fundamentally. I still think we’re headed for soft Brexit, which I have been convinced of since December when the backstop was agreed between HM government and the Commission.