New gov't signals PM May serious about Brexit
Theresa May wanted Britain to stay in the European Union, but the government she unveiled Thursday leaves little doubt that Britain's new prime minister intends to fulfil voters' instructions and take it out of the 28-nation bloc.
May has appointed leading euroskeptics - including the unpredictable Boris Johnson and the formidable David Davis - to top international jobs in a Cabinet that sweeps away many members of predecessor David Cameron's administration.
When she was running for the Conservative leadership, May promised that "Brexit means Brexit", and her appointments of Johnson, Davis and arch-Eurosceptic Trade Secretary Liam Fox signal to EU leaders that, no matter what her own feelings, she will not be watering down Britain's commitment to leaving the EU.
Johnson, Britain's new foreign secretary, said yesterday it was an opportunity to be seized - "reshaping Britain's global profile and identity as a great global player".
On her first full day in office, May dismantled Cameron's affluent metropolitan clique, dubbed the "Notting Hill set" after the former prime minister's trendy West London neighbourhood.
Some 52 per cent of Britons who voted June 23 wanted to leave the EU - a position uncompromisingly reflected in the international face of the new government through the triumvirate of Johnson, Davis and Fox.
Johnson, London's popular former mayor, helped the 'Leave' campaign win last month's referendum. But his appointment as foreign secretary caused some consternation around the world.
Johnson's certainly not the obvious choice for Britain's top diplomat. He is internationally famous but for rumpled eccentricity, Latin aphorisms and distinctly undiplomatic gaffes.
On his first day in the job, Johnson struck a sober tone. The US-born, part-Turkish Johnson said Britain was quitting the EU but "that does not mean in any sense leaving Europe."
Some said Johnson might surprise his many critics. His idol is Winston Churchill, another politician who was underestimated before rising to become Britain's World War II leader. May has given him the chance to live up to his potential or to fail spectacularly.
Lesser known than Johnson but at least as important to Britain's future is 67-year-old David Davis, the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Davis, who served under Conservative Prime Minister John Major in bruising 1990s dealings with the EU, is one of the staunchest Eurosceptics in British politics. He will lead a new department charged with the complex work of divorcing Britain from the bloc, yet forging a new relationship with it.
Davis has previously said Britain should take a "brisk but measured" approach to exit talks with the EU, invoking Article 50 of the EU constitution - the formal trigger for two years of exit negotiations - by the start of 2017.
EU leaders, however, are pressuring Britain to open formal exit talks sooner - and warning that the UK cannot have access to the single European market of 500 million people without accepting the free movement of EU citizens, a sticking point for many pro-Brexit Britons.
Newly appointed Treasury chief Philip Hammond, meanwhile, sought to reassure the markets and the public, saying there was no need for an emergency national budget, despite the question marks hanging over the British economy following the referendum.
"Britain is open for business," he said. "We are not turning our back on the world."