The EU Isn’t Bothered About David Davis Resigning

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union isn’t too fussed about David Davis’s departure from the top of the U.K.’s Brexit team and some officials see his exit as a chance to move long-stalled divorce talks along.

Seen from Brussels, Davis’s departure is a further sign that Theresa May’s government is gradually heading toward a more acceptable Brexit position, according to three European officials familiar with the situation. The EU still has objections to the vision agreed to by her cabinet on Friday, but it’s certainly more palatable than what Davis seemed to be proposing, according to the people.

Since Davis’s resignation was a protest against May’s plan, which would keep the U.K. closely tied to the bloc, it could be seen as “a victory for being more realistic,” one of the EU people said. May’s office said on Monday she’s still pursuing the roadmap set out on Friday.

The main reason EU officials don’t consider Davis’s resignation as a more serious development is that they were dealing primarily not with Davis but with May’s chief EU adviser Olly Robbins. He led the technical negotiations, helped shape policy and speeches and consulted with European capitals. It’s Robbins who tells May what the EU is thinking. EU officials don’t see that changing under Davis’s replacement Dominic Raab.

“It matters a lot for the U.K. side” who the Brexit secretary is, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels. Asked whether Davis’s decision to quit was a problem, he said: “Not for us.”

“We will continue to work in good will, bona fide, with Prime Minister May and the U.K. government negotiators in order to reach a deal,” Schinas said. He said that May spoke to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a telephone call at 5 p.m. on Sunday, hours before Davis’s resignation.

European negotiators who had dealt with Davis since talks began a year ago had grown to like him. But he had visited Brussels only twice in 2018. His last trip was a rushed breakfast with EU chief Brexit negotiatior Michel Barnier in June, days after Robbins had overseen the latest progress around the negotiating table in Davis’s absence.

“Who cares?” one of the EU people said about the resignation. In the EU’s view, Davis was increasingly sidelined and the EU didn’t consider his perspective to be the government’s main view, the people said.

What EU officials aren’t taking into account as much as observers in the U.K. at this stage however, is the impact Davis’s resignation has on May’s position.

Many in the EU have long believed that the best chance of getting a Brexit deal hinges on her staying in post. So if Davis’s decision to quit triggers greater instability, officials in Brussels will have to reassess their reaction.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.