Brexit Secretary David Davis tells MPs of plan to copy existing legislation on citizenship
The UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis has told MPs it is intended to retain the reciprocal privileges Irish citizens enjoy here and British people enjoy in Ireland. He made his remarks at the same hearing he told MPs that Britain has not done any financial planning or projections at all based on the UK not securing a post-Brexit deal with the EU.
Mr Davis also said Whitehall is planning to police Ireland’s North-South Border with technology and CCTV – a suggestion derided a few weeks ago by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Davis, the most highly regarded politician among the three Brexit campaigners Theresa May brought into her cabinet – the others are Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – said the UK plans pretty much cutting and pasting the existing 1949 legislation into the Statute Book. He was speaking to the Commons committee on Exiting the European Union on Wednesday. “What we will aim to do is pretty much identical to the 1949 act, which gives effectively citizenship rights to the citizens of each country,” Mr Davis said.
Acknowledging Prime Minister May’s and Taoiseach Kenny’s comments in Dublin that they want a “frictionless” border between the North and the Republic he said: “It is not going to be easy, it is going to cost us money, a lot of work on technology, to put border controls in but without having border posts, but that is what we intend to do.
“I am confident that actually the two nations and the Commission between them will be able to solve this because we really want to, because the technology is better than it was 20 years ago and because we all understand the value of it.
“We are not going to do anything which jeopardises the peace process.”
At the same session Mr Davis admitted, after close questioning from the Labour Party’s Hillary Benn, that the British government has not carried out any assessment of the economic impact of leaving the EU without a deal. Mrs May said in her long-awaited Lancaster House speech earlier this year that her Brexit strategy is predicated on the principle that “no deal was better than a bad deal”.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said at the weekend it would be “perfectly fine” to just walk away from any deal. Mr Davis, who is considered a more serious and thoughtful politician with a greater grasp of the detail of Brexit, told MPs on Wednesday: The Prime Minister’s “no deal” remark had been made “in the emotional aftermath of the referendum [when] there were lots of threats of punishment deals”.
“We had to be clear that we could actually manage this in such a way as to be better than a bad deal, and that is true.”
He said projections of the cost of a hard Brexit done during last year’s referendum campaign “don’t appear to have been robust”.
“Well, it made an estimate during the referendum campaign, but I think that one of the issues that has arisen is that some of those forecasts don’t appear to have been robust since then…
“But not since then. Under my time, no.”
“I can’t quantify it for you yet. I may well be able to do so in a year’s time. It’s not as frightening as some people think, but it’s not as simple as some people think,” he said. “Any forecast you make depends on the mitigation you make, and therefore it would be rather otiose to do that forecast before we have concluded what mitigation is possible,” said Mr Davis.
He conceded that if the UK left the EU with no deal and reverted to the default of World Trade Organisation rules, UK agriculture would face tariffs of 30-40 per cent on exports and car manufacturers 10 per cent. Mr Davis also conceded British people travelling to the EU “probably” would no longer have healthcare benefits, the financial sector would lose vital passporting rights and there would be a departure from the EU-US Open Skies arrangement.
Labour MP Pat McFadden, the son of native Irish-speaking Donegal parents who spoke no English when they came to England, told Mr Davis: “Without an assessment, you have mortgaged the country’s economic future to a soundbite.”
Downing Street defended the Brexit Secretary’s remarks afterwards: “David Davis was asked a specific question about a new overall economic assessment. It was also made clear that there is rigorous work going on across Government about the implications.
“The Prime Minister’s view remains that a bad deal would be worse than no deal.”