The Lib Dem MP and former energy secretary on the lies of the Brexiteers—and how he plans to expose themby Alex Dean / September 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Mr Johnson has betrayed his country. That’s unforgivable. People need to know what a traitor he is.”
Ed Davey, Lib Dem MP and former cabinet minister, took no prisoners in his assessment of government Brexiteers—and one Brexiteer in particular. Boris Johnson’s insistence over the weekend that Brexit will indeed free up £350m for the NHS “shows you what a despicable man he is. How anyone can think he’s fit for office is a joke.”
In an exclusive interview with Prospect, Davey continued his remarkable assault on the Foreign Secretary. “Duplicitous liar doesn’t come close to that man,” he said. “He’s held in the lowest regard of any foreign secretary of modern times, including by the countries we regard as our closest allies.”
“I’m probably doing any shred of relationship with him fatal damage,” Davey said, “but I don’t care.”
The former energy secretary paused for breath. We were downstairs in a deserted hotel bar during the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference in Bournemouth. The theme tune to Snoopy played on the hotel speakers—on repeat. The surreal atmosphere was punctured by yet another stinging accusation from Davey.
Earlier this week David Norgrove, chair of the UK statistics authority, reprimanded Johnson over his £350m figure, which he said was a misuse of the figures. An almighty row ensued. Davey suggested to me the stats body would be at risk if Johnson replaced Theresa May: “In the long term if he becomes PM I worry about the independence” of the body “because an inveterate liar like Boris Johnson won’t want to be brought up on how to count by them.” Johnson, for his part, maintains he has done no wrong.
“Mr Johnson has betrayed his country. That’s unforgivable”
Having initially represented his constituency Kingston and Surbiton from 1997-2015, Davey lost out in the election two years ago, when the Lib Dems were all but wiped off the map. He returned to parliament in June. Though the expected Lib Dem resurgence didn’t quite materialise—the final tally of 12 MPs was “not good”—he is “delighted to be back.”
When Tim Farron resigned as Lib Dem leader shortly after the vote, Davey was immediately discussed as a frontrunner to replace him. He chose not to stand for personal reasons, he says, but would he reconsider down the line? While current leader Vince Cable is “brilliant,” he’s “not going to be around for 10 years. He’s not going to be around forever, I may be old at 51 but I hope I’ve got a bit of time.”
Jo Swinson is the other name that crops up in future leadership discussions. She has a “bright future,” Davey told me. “But it’s not to say I wouldn’t ever run.” Whether his intention or not, Davey’s remarks will send the rumour-mill spinning.
For now, though, the focus is on taking the fight to the government. Brexiteers “have a model which is completely unrelated to reality,” Davey warned. “The government’s just got a ludicrous negotiating position on so many things. If I was the EU I’d be laughing at us. It’s like… it’s not even 6th form. It’s like junior school.”
Vince Cable is “brilliant”—but is “not going to be around forever”
The problem, as Davey sees it, is that the government has “no understanding of the fact there are 27 of them and one of us, no understanding that they have got a very weak position.” The PM and her team need to “get real.” Currently they are occupying a position so right-wing “even Mrs Thatcher would have winced.”
The government’s treatment of EU citizens living in the UK has, Davey argued, been inexcusable. “They way they’re being treated is verging on the immoral,” he said, referring to the use of this group as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations. “I despair. You don’t treat people like this.”
How can the Lib Dems hold the government to account during a moment of such constitutional importance? “We can only do that in partnership with other people in the House.” Then, echoing comments made to me on Monday by Swinson—and by Cable in his speech to conference yesterday—Davey defended his party’s record in coalition. The decision to leap into bed with the Tories remains controversial. But collaboration can be essential, he argued. “I think the coalition government, when history looks at it, will go down as actually a pretty good government. And did I enjoy exercising real power? Yes I did.”
No repentance there, then. And cooperation is needed more than ever—if not as a formal coalition then still “there’s got to be cross-party working.”
As the evening drew on, our conversation turned to climate change—formerly Davey’s cabinet brief. In his speech yesterday, Cable expressed dismay that the Tories are dismantling Davey’s hard work, and the MP for Kingston had some concerns: “I worry that in a post-Brexit situation the governance of environmental law will be inherently weaker,” he warned. While Trump seems to be U-turning on US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the president is still “bad news for the environment,” Davey said. “When will these people learn?” he lamented of climate change deniers. “How many hurricane Irmas do there need to be?”
But there are some reasons for optimism. Davey suggested that the declining price of renewables could soon mean businesses go green of their own accord, simply because doing so is cheaper. “Innovation on the green agenda has gone so fast, the declining cost of solar being right at the top… that it’s going to be led by markets very soon, and they’re going to say ‘Well, this is the cheapest. Why would we build a coal power station? We’re going to do solar. So I don’t care what you think Mr Trump.'”
Signing off, Davey was upbeat about his party’s future prospects. “There is that space, there is the anti-Brexit space, the sort of gap in the centre of British politics which we can now see if we can populate in bigger numbers. So although I would have liked to have done a lot better [in June], I still think the conditions for more rapid progress are there.”
“I’m ambitious for Vince to be PM and for me to be in the cabinet with him. I’m not saying it’s likely but it’s not incredible given how volatile politics is,” Davey said. And anyway, “unless you state your ambitions, why should anyone listen to you?”