British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned, becoming the latest Brexiteer to quit PM Theresa May’s Cabinet. It follows May’s attempts to strong arm her Cabinet into accepting a so-called “soft Brexit.”
Boris Johnson on Monday resigned as UK foreign minister, the second resignation from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet in less than 24 hours. Roughly six hours later, Downing Street announced that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would take Johnson’s place.
The announcement of Johnson’s departure followed a day of confusion, with the minister absent first from a COBRA national security meeting connected to Russia and Novichok, and then from an EU-Balkans summit he was hosting in London.
“This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary,” an emailed statement from May’s office said. “His replacement will be announced shortly. The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.”
Johnson had been expected as co-host of an afternoon summit on the Western Balkans in London on Monday but did not show up. His resignation was announced around an hour after he was set to open proceedings.
Johnson and former Brexit Secretary David Davis’ departures underline May’s struggle to unite her Conservative party as negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union enter their crucial phase.
During Friday’s 12-hour Cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s country residence Chequers, May appeared on Friday to have secured approval for a so-called “soft Brexit” — with the UK retaining strong economic ties to the EU after leaving. However, in private, Johnson, a vocal pro-Brexit voice in the government, reportedly criticized May’s plans as “polishing a turd.”
In her letter to Johnson, May said: “I am sorry — and a little surprised — to receive (the resignation letter) after the productive discussions we had at Chequers on Friday, and the comprehensive and detailed proposal which we agreed as a Cabinet.”
After announcing his resignation late on Sunday, Davis told British media he was stepping down because he did not believe in May’s Brexit plan, claiming it would leave the UK “in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”
Both Davis and Johnson are said to now believe that a “no deal” Brexit would be preferable to May’s plans.
Addressing parliament after Johnson’s resignation in a turbulent atmosphere, May also repeatedly alluded to the prospect of leaving without a deal if necessary. However, she insisted that her Brexit blueprint was the only way to avoid a hard Irish borderand that there was a chance Brussels would move to accept it.
“What we are proposing is challenging for the EU,” May told the House of Commons. “It requires them to think again, to look beyond the positions they have taken so far and to agree a new and fair balance of rights and obligations.”
Johnson: Brexit ‘dream is dying’
In his resignation letter, released later on Monday, Johnson accused the government plan of relegating the UK’s status to effectively that of a colony.
“We are now in the ludicrous position of asserting that we must accept huge amounts of precisely such EU law, without changing an iota, because it is essential for our economic health — and when we no longer have any ability to influence these laws as they are made,” Johnson wrote. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of a colony …
“The dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,” he added.
Brussels responds to UK Cabinet resignations
Commenting on recent spate of resignations in Westminster, European Council President Donald Tusktweeted “who knows” if the idea of Brexit would not also disappear.
Earlier, Tusk told reporters that “mess caused by Brexit” was a problem that wouldn’t disappear alongside the political departures. Asked to comment on Davis’ resignation, the former Polish prime minister told reporters in Brussels: “Politicans come and go but the problems they have created for their people remain. And the mess caused by Brexit is the biggest problem in the history of EU-UK relations.”
Asked about his reaction to Johnson’s resignation, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sarcastically remarked that “this clearly proves that at Chequers, there was unity in the cabinet.”
Farage vows comeback if government fails to deliver Brexit
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), pledged late on Monday that he would return to politics if for whatever reason the UK failed to meet its March 2019 deadline for leaving the EU.
“My own red line is that if Article 50 is suspended or delayed, I will have no chance but to resume campaigning in all part of the United Kingdom,” Farage said during his talk show on UK’s LBC radio, adding that he would even consider putting his name forward to once again becoming UKIP leader.
“I never thought I would say that again, but the government’s sell-out leaves me with no choice. The latest Brexit betrayal must be reversed.”
dm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)