POLITICS
24/01/2018 12:01 GMT | Updated 24/01/2018 13:02 GMT

David Davis Denies UK Will Be 'Vassal State' Of EU After Brexit In Tense Argument With Jacob Rees-Mogg

Row exposes internal-Tory divisions over exit strategy.

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David Davis has denied the United Kingdom will be a “vassal state” of the European Union for two years after it leaves in March 2019.

The Brexit secretary told MPs on Wednesday the UK would have to accept new EU rules during any transition period without having any say in creating them.

His admission set up a tense clash with Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg at the Commons Exiting the EU Committee who said this had “very serious” consequences and ridiculed Davis for having “weak” arguments.

Rees-Mogg, a leading backbench Tory Brexiteer, told Davis: :It’s hard to think of any precedent in the world where an independent nation has taken the judgements of a foreign court as it’s superior and immediate law without having any judge in that court.

“We are a vassal state for a two year period,” he added. “That is a big shift in government policy and a big move away from the vote in June 2016.

“Aren’t we just still acting as if we are in the EU, we are bound by the EU, we are lackeys of the EU? Can’t we be a bit bolder and implement the referendum result?”

Davis argued the one important difference between the current situation of EU membership and the transition period between 2019 and 2022 would be that the UK would be free to sign new international trade deals. 

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Jacob Rees-Mogg clashed with David Davis during a Brexit committee session.

Davis said Rees-Mogg would be correct to be worried if the UK was left accepting Brussels rules without having any input into them in “perpetuity” - but this was not the case.

“We are transitioning from one state to another. You can call wit what you like but not a vassal state,” he said.

Rees-Mogg was recently chosen to lead the influential pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs.

The clash possibly foreshadows internal-Tory fights to come over the relationship between the UK and EU during the planned two year transition.

Asked whether the UK would have to accept new EU laws during that time, Davis said was an “area of some interest”.

“The time to put a rule into effect, regulations into effect, in the EU, the average is 22 months,” he said.

“The proposal we are having for the EU at the moment is we leave over 21 months. In other words, there will be nothing we didn’t have say in. What happens where that’s not exactly right, where it doesn’t work out that way, we will see when we come to it.”

Rees-Mogg said it was a “a really rather weak argument” to claim that the UK would not have to accept new rules because the EU takes a long time to implement them.

“In future, when it has a 21 month period where it can implement new rules possibly including a financial transaction tax, it might suddenly find there is a incentive to move quite quickly,” he said.

During the committee session, Davis also said anyone who used the phrase “red lines” when going into a negotiation was an “idiot”.

“One thing he doesn’t determine is he will hit his red line, he determines he will hit no more than his red line,” he said.

In October, Davis’ chief of staff Stewart Jackson, who was sitting behind him at today’s committee, out some “red lines”. He told the Conservative Party conference:

“We are in the business of honouring the faith and trust that the British people put in us and the instruction to deliver on June 23 around the key red lines, which are: no contribution to the budget; no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice; the end of free movement; and British laws being made in our sovereign Parliament.”

In 2014, Davis himself asked then prime minister David Cameron to set out his own “red lines” for the negotiations ahead of the referendum. He asked:

“As the Conservative party and only the Conservative party will deliver a referendum and a renegotiation on Europe, will the prime minister tell us his intentions of bringing to this House the red line issues that will feature in his renegotiations, and can he give us a preview of some of those issues today?”

Under questioning from the committee, Davis admitted he had changed his mind on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU customs union after Brexit.

He had previously said: “My preference would be that we should remain within the Customs Union of the EU.”

But he said this opinion was now out of date. “As the facts changed. I changed my mind,” he said.