The Brexit Secretary’s words at the “Deal or No Deal” conference in Westminster came as a former minister David Jones urged the government to “stop flogging a dead horse” and suspend the talks.
Mr Jones, a former Brexit minister, is one of a series of senior backbenchers who believe Britain is now wasting its time negotiating with the EU amid threats from the European Commission that trade talks will not start in December.
There is also growing anger over reports that Theresa May and Mr Davis are prepared to offer £36 billion of taxpayers’ money for a divorce bill.
Addressing a pro-Brexit audience, Mr Davis gave his strongest hint yet that the UK Government is running out of patience with the delaying tactics used by the commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the demands for Britain to commit to a large divorce bill.
It followed European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier giving a speech on Monday where he indicated he wants Britain to be forced to keep EU regulations but not have passporting for its banks or get single market benefits even with a generous divorce bill paid.
Mr Davis said: “It has become clear that we now must start talking about our future relationship.”
The Brexit Secretary pointed out that issues such as the Northern Ireland/ Ireland border cannot be agreed without a deal on customs.
Making it clear that “no deal” means no money for the EU, he pointedly added: “The financial settlement (divorce bill) depends on it because nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed.”
He said: “We are ready to agree that conversation about the future relationship as soon as the European Union is ready.”
Mr Davis insisted that the Government wants a “bold, imaginative relationship with a unique, comprehensive free trade agreement beyond which anything the EU has signed to date.”
But appearing to suggest a deadline of the December European Council meeting of heads of government he said agreement there for moving on to discussions on future arrangements is “crucial”.
In his bluntest message he added: “The department I run, Dexeu, isn’t called the Department for ‘getting a deal come what may’, it is called the Department for Exiting the European Union and whatever happens we are leaving the European Union on the instructions of the British people.”
He also insisted that while he hopes for a two year transition period after March 2019, the UK “will be a third country and we will act as one too.
“That includes the ability to negotiate and sign free trade deals so they can be enacted once that transition period is over.”
Speaking immediately after, Mr Jones voiced the concerns of many Tory MPs that the EU is being allowed to drag out the process too long.
He said that the Government needs to “stop flogging a dead horse” and “suspend the talks”, instead preparing to go on to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
He mocked Remainers who say Britain “will crash out of the EU without a deal”.
The former Welsh Secretary said: “There is little to be feared with leaving the EU and continuing to trade with it on WTO terms.”
He described the option as “exciting” and attacked those who have the “apprehension” that the EU can somehow stop trade.
He said: “This view overlooks the fact that business is conducted by business people, it isn’t conducted by governments and the rest of the world trades with the EU quite successfully on WTO terms.”
He said: “I don’t believe we will see a significant amount of progress and the December council. Time is now short.”
Mr Jones added: “We should now be suspending our negotiations with the European Union, we should be walking away from the conference room and starting to make preparations for life outside the EU.”