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Theresa May govt in crisis as Boris Johnson quits over Brexit plans

The resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis puts a question mark over whether Theresa May 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

world Updated: Jul 10, 2018 07:42 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Boris Johnson resigns,Brexit,Theresa May
British foreign minister Boris Johnson resigned on Monday(AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was plunged into turmoil on Monday after two senior ministers, including foreign secretary Boris Johnson, resigned over her plans for a “soft Brexit”, raising serious questions about her longevity in office.

The immediate provocation for the resignation by Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis was May’s plans, outlined on Friday at the prime minister’s country residence Chequers, which led to an uneasy truce among pro- and anti-Brexit members of the cabinet. Those plans are now in tatters.

Steve Baker, a junior minister in Davis’ department for exiting the European Union, also quit.

Shortly after her office confirmed Johnson’s resignation on Monday, May appeared in Parliament to defend her plans. She acknowledged the splits in her cabinet, and said about the ministers who quit: “We do not agree about the best way of delivering our shared commitment to honoring the result of the (Brexit) referendum.”

Davis quit on Sunday, saying May’s plans envisaged close ties with the European Union even after Brexit and gave only an illusion of control being returned to the UK. He was immediately replaced by Dominc Raab, but the senior figure’s resignation sent ripples across Westminster and Whitehall, where Brexit has occupied most space since the 2016 referendum.

Johnson’s resignation added to the turmoil, though May kept to her schedule of making a statement in the House of Commons on the “Chequers plan”, which she strongly defended.

Britain is expected to leave the EU by March 29, 2019.

The key issue is if, and to what extent, the UK should retain regulatory and other links with the EU after leaving the group. May’s plan opts for continued alignment with most aspects of the customs union and the single market, as demanded by Tata-owned JLR and other leading companies that have supply chains and markets across Europe.

Proponents of “hard Brexit” want a complete break, exit from the customs union and single market, and out of the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. May’s plan at Chequers has already been dubbed the “Remainers’ plan”.

Junior minister Baker told BBC he had been “blindsided” by May’s Brexit proposal and that he and his team had been preparing a white paper “which did not accord with what has been put to the cabinet at Chequers”.

There were immediate calls for a fresh election or a new referendum on leaving the EU, as the beleaguered May sought to present a picture of normality. Her Chequers plan caused ripples in British politics, but whether it will be acceptable to Brussels at all, when presented, remains unknown.

Labour’s Keir Starmer said: “The deep division at the heart of the Conservative Party has broken out in public and plunged this government into crisis. It is now clearer than ever that Theresa May does not have the authority to negotiate for Britain or deliver a Brexit deal that protects jobs and the economy.”

First Published: Jul 09, 2018 19:52 IST