The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has resigned, less than nine months before the UK formally leaves the grouping. At this stage, it seems the move has not triggered a leadership challenge, and the Hard Brexit faction (of which Davis is the de facto leader) is conscious that they probably do not have sufficient support among Conservative MPs to install one of their own in Theresa May’s job. Outing May from Number 10 Downing Street would result in a new PM who would probably broadly follow the same approach to Brexit as agreed by Cabinet last Friday – that is, to stay aligned with the EU customs block to avoid disruption to trade.
Having said that, politics can be an unpredictable sport, and Davis’s resignation could have consequences that Davis did not intend. He has built a career on being a prominent Eurosceptic voice, and he understandably concluded that it would damage his right-wing, Eurosceptic credentials among colleagues if he delivered Theresa May’s soft Brexit with regulatory and customs alignment with the EU.
Eight ministers have resigned from government in recent months, almost all over Brexit or Heathrow Airport’s expansion. Davis leaving will add to the narrative that Theresa May’s administration is chaotic. And the European Commission will be frustrated at having to build a new relationship with Britain’s chief negotiator when there are just weeks left to settle a draft agreement. (The aim is to have a draft agreement by October)
But the resignation does provide an opportunity for an energetic new Brexit Secretary to step up to the role. Theresa May has chosen Dominic Raab, a young, energetic and competent politician who has been seen as a rising star in the party for a while. He supported Brexit and voted to leave the EU, but is pragmatic and knows he will have to compromise to make progress. Raab will have a busy and stressful few months ahead of him, to make progress on an extensive range of issues that Davis has left without agreement.