Britain’s Brexit minister steps down in blow to May

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a crisis in her cabinet on Monday after Brexit minister David Davis and two of his deputies resigned over a plan to retain strong economic ties to the EU even after leaving the bloc.

All eyes are on whether there will now be further resignations by Brexit hardliners that could threaten May’s leadership after junior ministers Suella Braverman and Steve Baker reportedly followed him out the door.

But Davis himself said he did not want her to fall, telling BBC radio that “of course” May would survive.

Asked if there could now be a full-fledged rebellion against the prime minister, he said: “I wouldn’t be encouraging people to do that. I think it’s the wrong thing to do”.

May will address Parliament later to explain her proposal for Britain to adopt EU rules on goods after Brexit — an increasingly fragile compromise reached with angry ministers in her own party demanding a clean break with Brussels.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner, has been critical of the plan in private but has so far not said anything in public since the cabinet signed up to the proposals after marathon talks on Friday.

Jack Blanchard from Politico said: “The first key question is whether this is an isolated incident or the start of a domino effect”.

Long-time eurosceptic Davis said he hoped his resignation would put pressure on May to make a stronger stand.

“It seems to me we’re giving too much away too easily and that’s a dangerous strategy… Hopefully we will resist very strongly any attempt to get any further concessions” by Brussels, he said.

Davis announced he was stepping down in a scathing letter on Sunday.

“The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one,” he wrote to May.

Friday’s proposal would “make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real”, he added.

Davis was particularly critical of the plan for a “common rulebook” to allow free trade in goods, saying this “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU”.

He concluded that his post required “an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript”.

May replied in a letter defending her plan for Brexit.

“I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed,” she said, asserting that it “will undoubtedly mean the returning of powers from Brussels to the United Kingdom”.

‘Brexit in name only’

Davis was appointed two years ago to head up the newly created Department for Exiting the European Union after Britain voted to leave the bloc in a referendum.

He became the public face of Brexit, leading the British delegation in talks with Brussels, although his role had been increasingly overshadowed in recent months as May and her aides took a bigger role in the negotiating strategy.

The 69-year-old had reportedly threatened to quit several times over a perceived lack of firmness in Britain’s negotiating stance but had remained strictly loyal to the prime minister in public.

When she speaks to MPs, May is expected to acknowledge there have been “robust views” on Brexit in her government and is also set to announce a replacement for Davis on Monday.

Brexit hardliners have welcomed Davis’s move, fuelling turmoil within the party and raising the prospect of a potential leadership battle.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said Davis had “done the right thing”, adding: “The PM’s proposals for a Brexit in name only are not acceptable.”

Ian Lavery, chairman of the main opposition Labour Party, said: “This is absolute chaos and Theresa May has no authority left.”

May’s plan would create a free-trade area with the EU for goods, to protect supply chains in areas such as manufacturing, while maintaining flexibility for Britain’s dominant service sector.

It is unclear whether Brussels will accept this, after repeatedly warning Britain it cannot “cherry-pick” bits of its single market.

Johnson was widely reported to have described the plan as a “turd” before agreeing to support it. He is due to speak at a Western Balkans summit in London on Monday.

© Agence France-Presse

Dario Thuburn
Dario Thuburn
Scribbler for AFP news agency
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