In an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard, the former Brexit Secretary said only French president Emmanuel Macron is taking a harder line against the UK. “Other than Macron, Merkel is the most emphatic in Europe about us not being seen to succeed,” he said.
Theresa May should not see Mrs Merkel as a “champion” ready to salvage a good future trade deal for the UK at the eleventh hour in the face of French opposition, Mr Davis continued. He added that the Brexit turmoil was likely to get even “tougher” for the Prime Minister.
He spoke out as Mrs May prepared to head to the annual Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, where she will have to convince members to back her Chequers Brexit blueprint after it was savaged by Brussels, Right-wingers and even some centrist MPs.
Mr Davis lambasted French Brexit policy as being driven by “daft” and “hysterically wrong” views on Britain. He also hit back at Mr Macron after the French president effectively branded him a liar at the Salzburg summit earlier this month, when EU leaders tore into the Chequers plan.
Mr Macron said: “Brexit has shown us one thing … it has demonstrated that those who said you can easily do without Europe, that it will all go very well … are liars.” Mr Davis retorted: “It’s not the mark of a great man to throw insults around.”
While Mr Macron has publicly taken a hard line on Brexit, Mrs Merkel’s position has been less clear, and there have been occasional signs from Berlin of a possibly more flexible approach.
But Mr Davis, who just months ago had a key role in the negotiations before he quit over the Chequers plan, said: “I don’t think Merkel was ever really going to be our champion, ever, ever … neither Macron, nor Merkel.” His views highlighted the difficulties facing Britain to get a good Brexit deal, due to be struck at a special summit in November, because the Franco-German axis is so critical to decision-making in the EU.
The former Cabinet minister believes Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron will come under growing pressure from regional leaders and business at home to strike a deal — but Brussels sources downplay the likely impact of this factor.
In the interview, Mr Davis:
Accused France of trying to use Brexit to “raid” the UK economy.
Said he believes the Prime Minister has to show the Tory conference, starting on Sunday, that she is “tough enough to stand up” to Brussels.
Stressed the UK needs some “specifics” on a future trade deal by March rather than a “woolly” offer.
Branded the Salzburg summit a “collective cock-up … on both sides”.
Warned of more Brexit turmoil ahead, stressing it is “tough now but it will get tougher”.
Revealed he does not know if his father is alive, having met him only once after being born to a single mother.
Mr Davis pointed the finger firmly at Paris for making Brexit “difficult”, saying that France was “playing hardball”, with three “strong elements” driving its policy.
“Number one, they are the most committed to the, ‘you cannot be seen to succeed argument because it will encourage other people’,” he said.
“It’s a daft argument, frankly. There is nobody like us, in truth, nobody has the upside we have, the upside of the rest of the world.
“The second reason is a very, very narrow French one of trying, as it were, to raid our economy to get businesses to go to France.
“Best demonstrator of that is the special tax deals they have given to some hedge fund people and other big earners in the City … at least one person whose salary last year was hundreds of millions and who paid no tax on it because he’s based in Paris now.
“The third one is there is a long-term French view of what they think of us as deregulatory ‘Wild West’ Anglo-Saxon approach to economics and somehow we are going to out-compete them by cutting everything, cutting taxes, cutting regulations and so on … it’s hysterically wrong.”
Mr Davis added: “At Salzburg, which was a sort of collective cock-up, really, on both sides, the people who would have been supportive of us, if they had been, wouldn’t have been France and Germany.”
The European Commission will be “as tough as nails” until there comes a point when the 27 other EU member states start to think “our interest is now at risk”, he predicted.
Mr Davis expects the Brexit talks to “go the distance”, with any trade deal being clinched only at the last minute.