David Davis says it’s time ‘to get down to business’ with Brexit – in reality, the time is long passed

“Getting down to business” in the Brexit talks, as David Davis has put it, has taken an unconscionable time. It is, after all, more than a year since the referendum, six months after Theresa May’s keynote speech on Europe at Lancaster House and many weeks since Article 50 was triggered. Already a tight timetable, and one which gave the EU27 side of the table considerable leverage. There is now precious little time for the British to persuade the Europeans to offer something attractive and saleable to the British people. There is even less chance, in other words, that Mr Davis’ promise – or aspiration? – that the UK would enjoy “exactly the self-same benefits” as it does now will be realised.

Mr Davis, it is said, likes to travel light in negotiations and tends not to bother with briefs as such reading can inhibit free, creative thought. Such imagination will be required as the nearest substitute weapon to hand for the negotiating power the British lack. This has only become apparent to all concerned comparatively recently.

Much was made by the Leave camp in the referendum campaign about the UK’s trade deficit with the rest of the EU, and how keen French, German and other exporting nations would be to retain their lucrative market on this side of the Channel. Rather more is being made now, though, about the fact that while the EU 27 represent about half of the UK’s export earnings, the proportion of the rest of the EU’s exports to the UK is closer to 10 or 20 per cent. Thus, we need them more than they need us, and we need a deal more than they need a deal.

The free-wheeling Mr Davis would also be well-advised to remember that it is now in the narrow national interest of, for example, France to restrict the UK’s reach in financial services so that they can poach some of this lucrative business and the jobs and tax revenues that go with it. Rationally, no one would want to dispute the City’s pre-eminence and the contribution it…

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