Boris Johnson and David Davis quit in blow to PM Theresa May

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Leading Brexit supporters talked tough and their opponents took to the streets, as a divided UK marked the second anniversary on Saturday of its vote to leave the European Union. (Juner 23)
AP

LONDON — A political crisis threatening Prime Minister Theresa May’s government deepened Monday after Boris Johnson resigned as Britain’s foreign secretary only hours after David Davis, the most senior British official leading negotiations for the country’s exit from the European Union, unexpectedly quit.

Both resignations come in the wake of proposals unveiled by May over Britain’s Brexit strategy. Their departures add to pressure for May to resign. She could also be ousted in a leadership challenge by her ruling Conservative Party.

Johnson and Davis were leading figures in the campaign in favor of Brexit, and both heavily favored a strong break  — a “hard Brexit” — in trade ties with the EU. 

“This afternoon, the prime minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. His replacement will be announced shortly. The prime minister thanks Boris for his work,” May’s office said in a statement.

Johnson’s resignation came after he reportedly described May’s plans for a “soft Brexit” that would preserve close trade ties with the 28-nation bloc to “polishing a turd.”

“Luckily, we have some expert turd-polishers in this government,” Johnson told May at a Brexit summit at Chequers — her country retreat — last week, British media reported. 

Davis resigned Sunday after claiming that May is undermining Brexit with her proposals for a “soft Brexit.” 

In his resignation letter, Davis cited irreconcilable differences with May over her plan to keep trade and customs ties similar to existing ones with the EU that “will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”

Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter who was previously the housing minister, has been announced as Davis’ replacement.

Johnson’s and Davis’s exit destabilizes May’s already fragile coalition government just days after the British leader announced she had finally united her fractious Cabinet behind a plan for a divorce deal with the EU.

Brexit is due to take place in March next year.

The EU has not signed off on any of May’s latest proposals. In fact, with less than nine months to go before Britain is due to formally leave the union it joined in 1973, the EU has repeatedly warned Britain that time is running out to seal a divorce deal. 

Tusk added: “The mess caused by Brexit is the biggest problem in the history of EU-UK relations and it is still very far from being resolved, with or without Mr. Davis,” European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday.

The resignations are a major blow to May because she was been trying to win over British parliamentarians who are skeptical of her proposal for a relatively “soft Brexit” that would keep Britain in a free-trade zone with the EU and avoid tariffs and border checks for goods. Davis was a strong “hard Brexit” voice who favored a clean break with the bloc that would allow Britain to strike new trade deals around the world.

Johnson’s and Davis’ exits could embolden Conservative lawmakers to challenge May’s leadership.

After winning a snap general election last year with a reduced number of Conservative lawmakers, May has relied on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her quarrelsome minority government. Many British lawmakers oppose Brexit.

Britain voted 52% to 48% in June 2016 to leave the European bloc.

“Fantastic news. Well done David Davis for having the principal (sic) and guts to resign,” the staunchly “hard Brexit” Conservative lawmaker Andrea Jenkyns tweeted earlier.

May “has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit,” Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, tweeted.

“With her government in chaos, if she clings on, it’s clear she’s more interested in hanging on for her own sake than serving the people of our country,” he said. 

Britain needs to reach a Brexit deal with the EU before March 29, 2019, in order to establish its trade, security, immigration and other bilateral ties with the bloc. If it fails to secure an agreement in time, tariffs would be imposed on goods that Britain exports to the EU, and vice versa, under World Trade Organization rules. In theory, it would also be under no legal obligation to continue making contributions to the EU’s budget, according to a British parliamentary report. More worryingly, the residency and working rights of three million EU nationals in Britain could also disappear overnight. 

More: Airbus threatens to leave Britain in case of no-deal Brexit

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