Sat | Mar 28, 2020

May hangs tough amid Brexit resignations

Published:Tuesday | July 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporter Steve Bray holds placards on Abingdon Green across the road from the Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, July 9, 2018. Former U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said Monday that he won't seek to challenge Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership after resigning from her Cabinet, but will aim to pressure her to toughen her position on Britain's departure from the European Union.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May.

British Prime Minister Theresa May dug in her heels on Monday after the resignation of two top government ministers over Brexit negotiations whipped up a storm that threatened to topple her fragile minority government

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit with a resignation letter accusing May of flying "white flags" of surrender in negotiations with the European Union. He said "the Brexit dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt "

Johnson followed Brexit Secretary David Davis out the door as a hard-won government consensus on future trade ties with the bloc disintegrated less than three days after it was forged and nine months before he United Kingdom is due to leave the EU.

Davis resigned late Sunday, saying May's plan to maintain close trade and regulatory ties with the EU gave "too much away, too easily".

If Davis's resignation rattled May, Johnson's shook the foundations of her government. The tousle-headed blond Johnson is one of Britain's best-known politicians and one of the most prominent advocates for Brexit. Some eurosceptic lawmakers dream of replacing May with a staunch Brexiteer such as Johnson, a populist, polarising figure who has never made a secret of his ambition to be prime minister.

With Britain due to leave the currently 28-nation bloc on March 29, 2019, EU officials have warned Britain repeatedly that time is running out to seal a deal spelling out the terms of the divorce and a post-split relationship.

Minutes after Johnson quit, May defended her Brexit plan to lawmakers in the House of Commons, with Johnson absent from his usual place on the Conservative front bench.

She said she and the two departed ministers "do not agree about the best way of delivering our shared commitment to honouring the result of the referendum" in which UK voters opted to leave the EU.

May's plan seeks to keep the UK and the EU in a free-trade zone for goods and commits Britain to maintaining the same rules as the bloc for goods and agricultural products.

Frictionless trade

May said that the plan would deliver frictionless trade with Europe and was the "only way to avoid a hard border" between the UK's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Britain and the EU agree that there must be no tariffs and immigration checks along the currently invisible frontier, but working out how to achieve that has been a major stumbling block in negotiations.

Rebuffing claims that her proposals make too many concessions to the EU, May said that her "smooth and orderly Brexit" would leave the UK free to make its own laws and trade deals.

The resignations came just days after May announced she had finally united her quarrelsome government behind a plan for a divorce deal with the EU.

Government unity began to fray within hours of Friday's announcement. Brexit-supporting lawmakers were angered by the proposals, saying that they would keep the UK tethered to the bloc and unable to change its rules to strike new trade deals around the world. They also argued that the proposals breach several of the "red lines" the government had set out, including a commitment to leave the EU's tariff-free customs union.

In his resignation letter, Davis said the "'common rule book policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense."

Johnson said in his letter that May's plan to keep close economic ties with the bloc means that Britain is heading for a "semi Brexit" that would leave Britain with the "status of a colony" of the EU.