LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May lost two key Cabinet ministers in quick succession when foreign secretary Boris Johnson quit just hours after Brexit secretary David Davis did, leaving her Brexit plans all but in tatters.
After a day when the foreign secretary cancelled meetings for crisis talks at his official residence in central London, Mr Johnson decided to walk from his job after Mr Davis did the same in protest at her plans to exit the European Union.
The two resignations leave Mrs May badly exposed at the top of a government unable to unite over Britain’s biggest foreign and trading policy shift in almost half a decade.
It also puts a question mark over whether the leader will try to weather it and stand firm in her commitment to pursue a“business friendly” Brexit, or will be faced with more resignations and calls to quit herself.
“This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary,” Mrs May’s spokesman said in a statement on Monday. “The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.”
The departures raise the stakes for Mrs May, who believed that she had secured a hard-won agreement with her deeply divided Cabinet of ministers last Friday (July 6) to keep the closest possible trading ties with the EU.
But it soon began to unravel, when Mr Davis resigned late on Sunday (July 8) and launched a no-holds-barred attack on her plan, calling it “dangerous” and one which would give “too much away, too easily” to EU negotiators, who would simply ask for more.
In his resignation letter, Mr Davis said he was not willing to be “a reluctant conscript” to her negotiating stance, which would see Britain mirror EU rules and regulations.
With Mr Johnson’s resignation, a noisy rebellion among the ranks could gather steam. Many Brexit campaigners in her Conservative Party say she has betrayed her promise to pursue a clean break with the EU.
She now faces a decision – whether to change her proposal or stick by it, and hope that she can face down the dissenters.
With less than nine months before Britain leaves and just over three before the EU says it wants a deal, Mrs May has been forced to show her cards that she will commit the country to pursuing the closest possible trading ties with the EU.
Her earlier reluctance to spell out her strategy was for fear of encouraging exactly this – angering one of the two factions in her Conservative Party that have sparred with each other since Britain voted to leave at a 2016 referendum.
Speaking at Parliament on Monday, Mrs May paid tribute to her outgoing foreign and Brexit ministers but said she and they “do not agree” on the best way forward in the negotiations.
After news broke of Mr Johnson’s resignation, European Council president Donald Tusk raised the idea that Brexit might be called off.
Echoing a comment he made to reporters after the earlier resignation of Mr Davis, Mr Tusk tweeted: “Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain. I can only regret that the idea of Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson. But...who knows?”
Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, is overseeing the negotiations with London on its departure and has been highly critical of Brexit. He has said in the past that Britons would be welcome to change their minds and stay in the EU.