David Davis is “not 100% sure” the UK will get a free trade deal with the EU after Brexit, he admitted today.
The Brexit Secretary, who kicked off negotiations with Brussels on Monday about the terms of the UK leaving the EU, rowed back from previous claims that the UK was “guaranteed to get a deal” once it leaves the bloc.
He instead suggested the EU could offer a deal which does not give the UK a customs deal similar to the current arrangement - which could place huge obstacles in front of businesses seeking to trade with Europe.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Davis also admitted he had helped persuade Theresa May to call the disastrous election which saw the Tories lose their majority, but had not apologised for his advice.
He praised May as a “good Prime Minister” as he attacked “self-indulgent” colleagues fixated on trying to oust her from Downing Street.
On Brexit, Davis insisted EU countries “have a very strong interest in getting a good deal” on trade, but did not appear as bullish as he was in the run up to last year’s referendum.
When asked if he was “absolutely sure” there would be a deal, Davis replied: “I’m pretty sure, I am not 100% sure, you can never be, it’s a negotiation.
He added: “You can be sure there will be a deal, whether it’s the deal I want which is the free trade agreement, the customs agreement and so on - I’m pretty sure but I’m not certain.”
Davis agreed it would be “catastrophic” to oust May while the Brexit talks are taking place.
One newspaper reports this morning that Chancellor Philip Hammond is being lined up to take over as Prime Minister on a caretake business before the Autumn conference season, while another paper claims an MP from the 2010 intake is being sought to depose May.
On Wednesday, Davis was the guest of honor at a drinks party thrown by former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson, where the Brexit Secretary was urged to stand for the top job.
He tried to dampen down suggestions May should be replaced in 10 Downing Street while the Brexit talks were ongoing, but refused to rule out standing once they had been concluded.
When asked if it would it be “catastrophic” for the Brexit negotiations if the Tories were to have a leadership contest, Davis replied bluntly: “Yes.”
He added: “I happen to think she’s a very good Prime Minister. I know she’s coming under a lot of pressure at the moment, but I’ve seen her in action, I’ve seen a number of Prime Minister’s in operation over the years
“She’s very good, she takes good decisions, she’s bold, she takes her time - there’s no essay crisis about this government.
“It’s very very very clear that she’s a good Prime Minister.”
Davis insisted he wants a “stable back drop” to his Brexit negotiations, and in a riposte to plotters in his own party he said: “Stop being so self-indulgent, get on with the day job.”
“Our job is to support the Prime Minister and make Brexit work - not anything else.”
When asked if he would stand once a Brexit deal has been struck, Davis said: “I’m not going to get into it. It’s self-indulgent.”
Another cabinet minister, International Development Secretary Priti Patel, also refused to rule out taking part in a leadership contest.
On ITV’s Peston on Sunday, the Brexit campaigner was asked if she believed May would contest the next general election as Prime Minster.
“We’re living in quite unprecedented times,” she replied.
When pushed on whether she would put herself forward if there was a vacancy, Patel said: “I’m talking about getting on doing the job that not just myself but other colleagues are involved in.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said after Davis’ interview: “David Davis inspires about as much confidence as a drunken trapeze artist.
“But it is the country as a whole that will suffer when he comes crashing to the floor.
“These negotiations will affect our lives for decades, but he’s only ‘pretty sure’ of getting a deal. It is simply not good enough.
“This Conservative government’s extreme approach to Brexit is gambling with people’s jobs, living standards and ability to live abroad.
“The British people must have the final say so David Davis and Theresa May can’t impose a disastrous Brexit on the country.”