After months of threats, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, finally tendered his formal resignation late on Sunday, citing progressive dilution of the government’s strategy. While all eyes in Westminster then turned to the resignation of Boris Johnson and the tenability of the Prime Minister’s position, there is reason for quiet celebration in Northern Ireland.
Davis has been widely disparaged during his time as Brexit Secretary and he brought his own brand of “back of a fag packet” policy across the Irish Sea too. Over the past 12 months, he has been the chief architect of the most fantastical solutions to the border issue, including the so-called “buffer zone”, and has paid but passing lip service to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
In his resignation letter, Davis criticised the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report and the omission of strict conditions in the backstop proposal that was put to the EU. For Davis, the fate of Northern Ireland had been an unhelpful diversion and he has relied heavily on the DUP to drive his understanding of Northern Ireland and ultimately his views on the ideal solution.
His replacement, Dominic Raab, shows more promise. Having started his career as a solicitor, Raab spent six years at the Foreign Office including three years at the International Court at The Hague. As an ardent Brexiteer he is unlikely to promote the type of Brexit sought by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, but both parties can take heart from his previous experience of constitutional issues and complex international law.
In his previous role as Minister of State for Justice, Raab was exposed to the legislative machinations involved in Brexit, many of which will have a significant impact on Northern Ireland. In the Commons last December for example, he reiterated the importance of the common travel area and pledged the Government’s support for the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
There is, of course, every chance that the EU-27 will reject the Prime Minister’s proposal out-of-hand. Until then we have a Brexit Secretary with, at the very least, the intellectual rigour to grapple with one of the most testing challenges facing the Union in recent years.
When he entered Parliament in 2010, Raab said in an interview that David Trimble was the non-Conservative politician he most admired, “for taking the tough decisions that led to the Good Friday Agreement”. The people of Northern Ireland will hope that he can emulate his hero.