Politicians and journalists rarely make good friends, but David Davis and I got on pretty well in the period we campaigned on civil liberties together during the last Labour government. We lunched, he came to my home for dinner, I introduced him to friends in New York and we often shared the same platform, notably in the Guardian debate at the Hay festival, when he and I took on Charles Clarke and the legal expert Conor Gearty on the motion: “Does the left still care about liberty?”
I came to like him a lot and to admire his bounce and pugnacity. Among all the politicians I knew – with the possible exception of Dominic Grieve – David possessed the deepest instinct for liberty. He seemed to me to be the archetypal English democrat who possessed a great reverence for the rule of law as well as an equal suspicion of the accumulating powers of the state. He spoke brilliantly at events I was involved in staging, often preparing a long and complicated address with a few notes, just moments before he went on stage. He was bright, energetic and, for that period, liberty’s hero.
Today, with David now at the heart of government as the secretary of state for exiting the EU, this all seems a very long time ago. We are now on opposite sides and I recognise almost nothing in the politics of the man who stood at the Convention on Modern Liberty in 2009 and asked: “What is the point of Britain if it does not adhere to the freedoms that made it? What is the point of parliament if it does not uphold its most sacred trust as a guardian of our liberty? What is the point of government if its principles aim to maximise fear and minimise our freedoms?”
During those “liberty years”, he always insisted that parliament was the bulwark against authoritarian government and the ultimate protection of the British people. Yet, within just a few months of accepting the job of Brexit secretary from Theresa May, he insisted that the executive must deprive MPs of the right to…