Two leading eurosceptic ministers resigned from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet in protest at her plans to keep close trade ties with the European Union after Britain leaves the bloc.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit on Monday, hours after Brexit minister David Davis announced his own departure, dealing a major blow to May and her plans for a “soft Brexit”, Reuters reports.
The two departures seemed to shatter May’s proclamation of cabinet unity last Friday, when she said she believed she had secured agreement on Britain’s approach to exiting the European Union, the report noted.
“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope,” Johnson said in his resignation letter. “That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”
In response, May said she was a “little surprised” to receive Johnson’s resignation after last Friday’s cabinet agreement.
She appointed in his place Jeremy Hunt, an ally who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. Hunt, a long-serving health minister, is replaced by culture minister Matt Hancock.
In his letter, Johnson complained about how “crucial decisions” had been postponed, leading to what he described as a “semi-Brexit” with Britain unable to diverge, or move away, from rules and regulations set in Brussels.
“In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony.”
Davis had earlier called May’s plan dangerous and said it would give “too much away, too easily” to EU negotiators.
May replaced him with another Brexit campaigner, junior minister Dominic Raab.
It was a rocky day for May, weakened after she lost the Conservatives’ majority in parliament in an ill-judged election last year, Reuters noted.
But at the meeting of her party in parliament, she was cheered several times and business minister Greg Clark, who supports her pitch for a business-friendly Brexit, said it had gone “very well”.
May signaled that she had decided to face down the dissenters, who do not form a majority in parliament.
She defended her Brexit plan in the chamber, even gently poking fun at the rows her party has had over the referendum vote and the wider European issue.
“In the two years since the referendum, we have had a spirited national debate, with robust views echoing around the cabinet table as they have on breakfast tables up and down the country,” May said.
“Over that time, I’ve listened to every possible idea and every possible version of Brexit. Mr Speaker, this is the right Brexit,” she said, to jeers from the opposition Labour Party.
May’s spokesman said she would fight any attempt to unseat her.
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