Three British ministers have resigned in the last 24 hours, throwing the UK’s Brexit strategy into further disarray and putting greater pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — a major advocate of the UK withdrawing from the European Union — resigned just hours after Brexit Secretary David Davis. Davis’ deputy, Steve Baker, also resigned on Sunday.
“This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary,” a Downing Street spokesman confirmed Monday. “His replacement will be announced shortly. The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.”
Davis resigned from his post Sunday evening because he said he disagreed with May’s Brexit strategy.
“It seems to me we’re giving too much away, too easily, and that’s a dangerous strategy,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “I like Theresa May, I think she is a good prime minister. We have a difference over the strategy. She’s got to have a Brexit secretary who will deliver on her strategy.”
The resignations put renewed pressure on May, who leads the country’s Conservative Party, or Tories.
Since it first voted to leave the European Union two years ago, the United Kingdom has been struggling to determine what exactly Brexit will look like in practice.
On Friday, May’s cabinet met at the prime minister’s country house and agreed on a strategy called Chequers. The Chequers deal hasn’t yet been fully made public, but it includes a “common rule book” for industrial and agricultural goods and seems like more of a compromise approach, with a continued relationship with the EU. Many Tory Brexiteers have criticized this plan as a “soft Brexit” or “Brexit in name only.” Johnson called it an “absolute stinker” of a deal, and said that defending it is like “polishing a turd.”
Many pro-Brexit MPs welcomed Johnson’s resignation on Monday, noting that it means he was standing by his principles.
“I hope the PM now revisits the Chequers statement and realises it is not what the big bulk of the MPs want, it is not what the overwhelming majority of the members of the party want, it’s not what the 17.4 million Brexit voters want and adjusts it,” MP John Redwood wrote on Twitter.
Last April, May called for snap elections, believing that it would give her greater power in negotiating a Brexit strategy. Instead, her party actually lost seats and its clear majority in Parliament. At the time, there were calls for her resignation — and now, she’s facing even more pressure. Only 48 Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) — or 15 percent of the party — are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in May. Then, nominations will be accepted. The resignations on Monday could mean a challenge to May’s leadership is more likely.
Davis, for his part, insisted that May’s position as prime minister is still safe. “I would be surprised if one [a leadership contest] is precipitated and if there is, I suspect she’d win it,” he told LBC Radio. “I don’t think it’s a survival issue at all.”
This will be a busy week for the United Kingdom. Johnson was set to attend a NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday, and U.S. President Donald Trump will fly to London on Thursday for his first official visit to the United Kingdom, where he is set to talk to the British prime minister about a range of foreign policy issues. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing murder investigation into the death of a British woman due to Novichok, the same nerve agent used to poison Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this year.
Johnson’s replacement has not yet been announced, while May replaced Davis with Dominic Raab, the former housing secretary and also a pro-Brexit advocate.
Outside of the UK, leaders have been taking a bigger picture look at the resignations.
“Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for their people remain,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter. “I can only regret that the idea of #Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson.”
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?
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) July 9, 2018