If it all comes apart post-referendum, Boris is the favourite for the leadershipby Alex Dean / June 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
“There will be a short period, probably measured in weeks, in which there will still be a bit of hysteria—no doubt about that—but then what will surface will be in the national interest of this country.”
In an exclusive interview with Prospect, David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden and prominent Brexiteer, rejected the idea that the European Union will seek to punish Britain if we vote to leave on 23rd June: “It’s highly unlikely—you’re talking tiny fractions of a per cent—that the EU will stick to a punitive line.” Not when “we are Germany’s fastest growing market—we’re their biggest export market within the EU.”
Davis, an MP since 1987, stood for party leader in 2005—when he lost to David Cameron. Davis’ background could not be more different from the victors’ aristocratic upbringing—he was raised by a single mother on a council estate.
In 2008, furious at the Labour government’s support for the 42-day detention of terror suspects without charge, he resigned as an MP and as Shadow Home Secretary in order to stand in a by-election on a civil liberties platform. It is widely understood that this is when a split really emerged between him and Cameron, who was unimpressed with the move.
He remains highly respected by large parts of the Conservative Party, and had harsh words for his long-time rival and his leadership team.
Criticising George Osborne (who makes the case for “Remain” on page 14), Davis argued that “George says the ‘Leave’ case—or the people—are economically illiterate. Well, people are not going to react well to that.”
On the question of who should lead the negotiations with the EU in the event of a “Leave” vote, Davis said “no one in [Cameron’s] inner circle. Bluntly, after the failed negotiation [earlier this year, when Cameron attempted to secure new membership terms], it is necessary to have another team do that job.”
Asked who he would like to see replace Cameron as leader when the time comes, Davis rattled off names: “Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab, Rory Stewart, there’s a bunch of youngsters who are capable. I’d say our talent peak is not in the Cabinet, it’s just below the Cabinet.”
Would he consider running for the leadership again? “I imagine there are narrow circumstances where I might.”
“If it all comes apart after the referendum, and there’s a leadership contest, I suppose the favourite must be Boris.” In the Conservative Party’s leadership elections, Conservative MPs narrow the field to two choices and then the wider public party membership vote in the winner.
Of those who might vote in this final round, Davis said: “They all know Boris, they barely know anyone else. He’s attractive, he’s charming, he’s funny, so they’re likely to vote for him. Because they’re likely to vote for him he’s likely to be the winner if he gets to the last round, which means that he’s more likely to get to the last round because a lot of people want to be on his coat tails.”
I asked Davis whether a vote to “Remain” would settle the issue for good in the Conservative Party. “No. The government has used every weapon in its armoury. Whether it is trying to avoid having purdah, whether it is sending out nine million quids’ worth of leaflets at the taxpayer’s expense, whether it is hauling in every layabout statesman in the world from Obama to Christine Lagarde [Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund] to chip in. There’s a feeling they’ve cheated a bit.
“And all this stuff about runs on the pound, I’ve never known the Bank [of England] to behave in the way that it is doing, issuing reports about the movement of money which were virtually designed to destabilise the pound. That sort of behaviour pattern will convince a lot of people that this was not a fair contest.
If [the “Leave” camp] just lose, if they lose 49-51 per cent, they’ll feel a bit aggrieved. That is not a formula for a satisfactory end to the argument.”
Britain’s EU membership is an issue Davis has been thinking about for “the thick end of 30 years.” Initially in favour of membership, he came to believe in leaving the EU having decided that attempts to reform the Union “never work. Einstein once said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. And I’ve decided not to be insane anymore.”
In the run-up to 23rd June, the “Remain” campaign has sought to convince the public that leaving would come with severe economic risks. Britain’s economy amounts to three per cent of global GDP—the EU’s economy amounts to 20 per cent. Presented with this, Davis replied: “Let me pick you a country—not that I want us to be like this country—that demonstrates how flawed this argument is.
“The EU has got free trade areas with countries whose GDPs add up to 4.7 trillion dollars—that’s 4700 billion dollars. Chile has free trade areas with countries amounting to 40.7 trillion dollars. It’s ten times as big! If ‘the size argument’ mattered that would not be true.”
He continued: “It took the EU nearly 6 years—70 months—to do a free trade deal with Singapore. Not a very complicated country. It took New Zealand 11 months [to strike its deal with Singapore]. The EU is like a sumo wrestler: it doesn’t move very fast!”