David Davis has sought to address concerns about his performance as Brexit secretary by saying he does not have to be very clever to do the job.
He told LBC radio: “What’s the requirement of my job? I don’t have to be very clever, I don’t have to know that much.”
But he insisted “I do just have to be calm”, claiming that last Monday’s botched attempt at getting an agreement with the EU to move to Brexit trade negotiations had tested that ability.
Theresa May’s hopes of getting the green light for trade talks were torpedoed at the start of last week by the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her government, over concerns that plans for the Irish border could lead to a new frontier being drawn in the Irish Sea.
The prime minister was forced into a week of negotiations with the DUP, Ireland and the EU before finally getting a dramatic last-minute deal on Friday, paving the way for trade talks.
Mr Davis said the phone call Mrs May had with DUP leader Arlene Foster last Monday, which appeared to unravel the planned deal, was “a lot shorter than people say”, and said his patience was tested by events.
The Brexit Secretary told LBC radio: “And that did test the calmness a bit, a little bit.
“But we had to pick another day and we looked at Wednesday but Wednesday wasn’t long enough for the DUP to sort themselves out so we made it Thursday, Friday morning.”
Mr Davis also said he did not believe economic forecasts as he discussed the furore over the Government’s failure to formally assess the likely impact of EU withdrawal on different sectors of the UK economy.
He was accused of misleading Parliament last week after admitting no impact assessments had been made because their usefulness would be “near zero” due to the scale of change which Brexit is likely to cause.
The Brexit secretary said: “In the last 18 months I’ve talked about impact here and there, but an impact statement, this is a thing that the Labour Party have been going on about, an impact statement has got a proper meaning in Whitehall, there’s a definition of it and so on, including things like forecasts.
“Now I don’t actually believe economic forecasts, they have all been proven wrong, I mean look at all the ones about Brexit.
“So what we do is we look at what we call a sectoral analysis which is the size of the thing, the size of the industry, employment levels, how much is dependent on Europe, how much is dependent on European regulations, how much opportunity there is in other countries.
“When you know those things, you know what you need to know.”
Discussing reports that he may retire in 2019, when the UK will exit the EU, Mr Davis dismissed suggestions he may have to stay in post during a post-Brexit transition period if a new trade agreement has not been reached.
He said: “We want the substantive negotiation concluded before the transition period starts, I mean there might be details to be sorted but the main deal has got to be struck.”
Asked if those details would fall to him, Mr Davis replied: “Anybody can do details, we’ll let you do the details.”
Asked whether Mrs May agreed that it was not necessary to be very clever to be Brexit secretary, the PM’s official spokesman told reporters: “The prime minister believes that all her Cabinet ministers are very able to get on with their jobs.”