More trouble for May as Johnson abruptly resigns

AP
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned yesterday, adding to a crisis over Brexit that threatens to tear apart Prime Minister Theresa May's government.
AP

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a charismatic and divisive cheerleader for Britain’s exit from the European Union, resigned yesterday, adding to a crisis over Brexit that threatens to tear apart Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

May’s office said in a terse statement that the prime minister had accepted Johnson’s resignation and would name a replacement soon.

Johnson, one of the best-known and most flamboyant members of the government, quit just hours after the resignation late on Sunday of Brexit Secretary David Davis, the government’s top Brexit official.

Davis said he could not support May’s plan to maintain close trade and regulatory ties with the EU, which he said gave “too much away, too easily.”

There was no immediate statement from Johnson, another loud pro-Brexit voice within May’s divided government. Some euroskeptic lawmakers dream of replacing May with a staunch Brexiteer such as Johnson, a populist, polarizing politician who has never made a secret of his ambition to be prime minister.

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.

The 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.

May said that was the “only way to avoid a hard border” between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Uncertainty over whether tariffs and immigration checks would be introduced at the border has been a major stumbling block in negotiations between Britain and the EU.

Rebuffing claims that her proposals make too many concessions to the EU, May said “this is the right Brexit” and would leave Britain free to make its own laws and trade deals.

May’s Cabinet agreed to the plan after a 12-hour meeting on Friday, but government unity began to fray within hours.

Brexit-supporting lawmakers were angered by the proposals, saying they would keep Britain 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 set out, including a commitment to leave the EU’s tariff-free customs union.

In a 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.”

Davis also said May’s plan “would be a risk at least of delivering a poor outcome.”

If Davis’s resignation rattled May, Johnson’s shook the foundations of her government.


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