As published by Politics Home:
Exclusive: David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, has admitted he privately agreed with campaigner Gina Miller taking the government, of which he was a part at the time, to court over Article 50.
Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, revealed in an interview featured in the Good Law Project’s annual report, shared exclusively with PoliticsHome, that he believed he could not say it publicly at the time due to being then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
In November 2016, The High Court ruled that the government had to secure parliamentary approval before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the formal mechanism for leaving the EU.
The legal challenge was spearheaded by Miller, a London-based investment manager, and was argued successfully in court by Lord Pannick QC. The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in early 2017 following a government appeal.
When asked about the importance of working with “unlikely allies” to bring about political change, Davis told the Good Law Project: “Diversity of opinion is a fundamental characteristic of democracies. Throughout my political career and on the various campaigns I have led, I have benefitted from working on a cross-party basis”.
He revealed: “Indeed, on the issue of Brexit I often met with those who fundamentally disagreed with me, such as Gina Miller. Of course, I could not say this at the time due to my position as Secretary of State, but I actually agreed with Gina Miller bringing her Article 50 case against the Government”.
Responding to the remarks, Miller regretted that such views had not been shared at the time. “On an issue of such enormous and significance impact to our country, democracy and rule of law, I wish MPs had been more willing to stand up and be counted,” she told PoliticsHome.
“When I was fighting my Article 50 case, pretty much alone, with practically no parliamentary support and vigorous opposition from many quarters of the media, that kind of support would have been incredibly valuable and a tremendous morale booster.
“I hope more of them will be willing to demonstrate courage on issues like this in the future — when our country should come before party”.
But Miller said she was able to “understand and respect” that Davis could not publicly support her at the time as he was restricted by his obligations as a senior Cabinet minister.
“I also agree with his point about speaking to people with different points of view, and we have recently spoken about shared concerns in respect of gaps in the proposed Online Safety Bill,” she added.
Miller questioned the implication in Davis’ comments that her case was all about Brexit.
“It’s important to remember that, for me, bringing the case was never about Brexit but, rather, about ensuring the executive could not gainsay the legislative and that Parliament’s constitutional and democrat rights to scrutinise, debate and decide, on behalf of the constituents that individual MPs represent, could never be steamrollered over by any sitting government,” she explained.
“That was a vitally important principle to protect. And one we did, with great clarity and effectiveness. And the rest, as they say, is history”.
Miller, 55, received vitriolic abuse for taking the May government to court over its Brexit strategy.
She received several death and rape threats and relentless racist and sexist abuse. Aristocrat Rhodri Philipps was jailed for 12 weeks in 2017 for offering £5,000 to anyone who would run over Miller, describing her as a “bloody troublesome first-generation immigrant”.
Davis at the time said the abuse received by Miller was “deplorable”.
“I can’t find words strong enough to say how much I detest the attacks on her and frankly, from what I’ve heard about them — I haven’t seen them myself directly — they sound to me effectively criminal attacks because incitement of violence, threats of violence, racial abuse are all crimes,” the ex-Brexit Secretary told the House of Commons in November 2016.
The relevation was included in the Good Law Project’s annual report, published today, which reflects on the organisation’s legal campaigns over the last 12 months.
This includes its work on PPE contracts handed out during the coronavirus pandemic, which in February led a court to rule that Health Secretary Matt Hancock acted unlawfully when his department failed to release details of contracts within 30 days of them being signed.
Good Law Project director Joylon Maugham said: “David and I share the same interest in the proper use of public money. We are equally alarmed by the special treatment for the well-connected like the VIP lane and Sunak-Cameron lobbying.
“We might disagree on some matters — like Brexit — but can come together on others. This is not a party political issue — the need to ensure public money is used properly should cross all party divides”.