MPs may not get to vote on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU until it has already left, Brexit secretary David Davis warned today.
He told the House of Commons’ Brexit Select Committee that the negotiations could drag on to the “59th minute of the 11th hour” and would be “very exciting for everyone watching”.
The government folded to pressure earlier this year to give Parliament a vote on the final agreement with the EU but Theresa May has said it could not stop Brexit.
Mr Davis said the timing of the vote depended on when and if a deal was struck.
“It depends when it concludes,” he said. “It can’t come before we have the deal.”
Asked by the committee’s chair Hilary Benn on whether this might not happen before the end of March 2019, the Brexit secretary said: “Yeah, that’s correct, in the event that we don’t do the deal until then.”
Mr Davis told the committee that the conclusion of the negotiations with the EU would be “very exciting”.
“It is no secret that the way the union makes its decisions tends to be at the 11th minute, 59th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day and so on and that’s precisely what I expect to happen here,” he said.
“It will be very high stress, very exciting for everyone watching, but that’s what will happen.
“In technical terms, there is no reason why we can’t do this in the time available… I am quite sure in my mind we can do this.”
He added that the UK could sign a trade deal with the EU “a nanosecond” after it departs the union and officially becomes a third country.
On any transition period he told MPs both sides had to know “where the UK was going” and whether it would lead to a full trade deal or a “bare bones” agreement with understanding in key areas but the UK defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules. He said he hoped to agree a transitional deal in the ‘first quarter of next year’ if the UK passes the ‘sufficient progress’ test on divorce terms in December.
Earlier in the hearing the Brexit secretary appeared to be relaxed about major banks threatening to move out of London to Frankfurt, Paris or Dublin if there is no deal ‘by March or April next year’.
He claimed they would not incur the huge cost of moving their operations entirely, saying: ‘They might reduce the size of the office.’
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘David Davis’ comments add to the confusion and chaos over the Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.
“Labour has been clear from the outset that Parliament must have the final say on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union before March 2019.
“The Brexit Secretary must urgently clarify his comments and accept Parliament will not be side-lined.’
Mr Davis was also widely ridiculed on social media for telling the committee that “Czechoslovakia doesn’t currently have a government”. Czechoslovakia has not existed since 1993.