THERESA May’s grip on power is hanging in the balance this afternoon after Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary just hours after she lost Brexit Secretary David Davis.
The two big beasts both walked out of the Cabinet in protest at the PM’s plans for Brexit, claiming it’s too weak to deliver the referendum result.
Mr Davis warned this morning that Mrs May is pursuing a “dangerous strategy” in talks with Brussels – but insisted he’s not trying to force the PM out of power.
But the resignation of Mr Johnson as Foreign Secretary could deliver a death blow to Mrs May’s struggling Government, with MPs lining up to launch an official leadership challenge to the Prime Minister.
The double blow – coming after Mrs May thought she’d managed to unite the Cabinet around her Brexit strategy – is the biggest threat to the PM since she took power.
A spokesman for the PM said: “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.”
Latest updates on Theresa May’s political crisis:
- David Davis insisted he could never back the PM’s plans for Brexit agreed at Chequers
- Boris Johnson followed him out of Government 15 hours after he quit
- Theresa May vowed to fight any bid by Brexiteer MPs to force her out of office
- She also ruled out a second referendum after being pushed
- Dominic Raab was named as the new Brexit Secretary this morning, promoted from Housing Minister
- Michael Gove and Liam Fox were tipped as favourites to take over from Boris
- The PM defended her Brexit plan and denied that it’s a “betrayal” of Leave voters
- Jeremy Corbyn said: “It is clear this Government cannot secure a good deal for Britain”
- EU leaders mocked the Cabinet chaos, describing it as “rats fleeing a sinking ship” and saying the resignations could bring an end to Brexit altogether
Mr Davis announced his resignation just minutes before midnight with a devastating letter warning Mrs May her proposals, agreed last week at Chequers, would leave the UK in “a weak negotiating position” with Brussels.
He was today replaced in the Cabinet by Dominic Raab, an arch-Brexiteer and close ally of Michael Gove who is currently serving as Housing Minister.
Boris followed up 15 hours later, after spending a day holed up with aides deciding whether or not to follow the Brexit Secretary’s lead.
During the Cabinet summit at Chequers, Mr Johnson described the PM’s plans as “a big turd” and said supporting it would be “polishing a turd” – although he later suggested he would back the deal.
Boris could now be in pole position to launch a leadership bid, positioning himself as the true voice of Brexit in the face of the PM’s compromises.
The resignation of the two ministers is likely to embolden pro-Leave MPs to write to the boss of the Tory backbenchers calling for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May.
If Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, receives 48 letters demanding a vote, he will have no choice but to stage a leadership contest.
Downing Street sources vowed that the PM would fight against any attempt to remove her from No 10.
How Theresa May could be ousted as PM – and a snap election may be on the cards
THERESA May faces the biggest threat to her premiership today as two Brexiteers quit at her Brexit strategy.
And if she can’t get her MPs on board and backing the plan in the coming days, a Tory leadership contest could be on the cards – or even ANOTHER general election.
If 48 MPs hand in letters of no confidence into the party chairman, Graham Brady, he has to call a vote on her leadership.
It’s not currently known how many MPs have already put theirs in, but there have been reports that only a few more are needed before it takes them over the edge.
That would trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership – Mrs May needs to get half of all Tory MPs to back her or a fresh leadership challenge will have be fought.
Anyone can then stand against her as leader – but the Tory members have the final say in a vote once it’s whittled down to two candidates by MPs.
Last time the procedure was needed, Iain Duncan Smith was ousted as Tory boss back in 2003.
If Mrs May manages to hang on, however, she could face the boot in the form of a General Election.
Due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Britain now only goes to the polls every five years.
But if two thirds of all MPs vote for an election, then Brits could have to vote for the third time in just three years.
A senior Tory recently told The Sunday Times that Mrs May would be happy if she had the support of half of her MPs. He said: “Theresa thinks that if there is a vote of no confidence she has to win by only one vote.
“It’s effectively saying to people, ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’”
If Mrs May wins a leadership vote – even by a slim margin – MPs can’t call another vote of no confidence for at least 12 months.
Speaking in the Commons today, Mrs May thanked the pair for their work over the last two years, adding: “We do not agree about the best way of delivering our shared commitment to honour the result of the referendum.
“But I want to recognise the work of the former secretary of state for exiting the European Union, for the work he did in establishing a new department and steer through the most important legislation for generations.”
Her praise for Mr Johnson was interrupted by laughter from Labour MPs, when she said, “And similarly to recognise the passion the former Foreign Secretary demonstrated….”
After a pause when the Speaker John Bercow was forced to intervene, she went on: “…in promoting a global Britain to the world as leave the European Union.”
Mrs May was then confronted by furious Tory MPs who suggested she had let down Brexit voters with her Chequers plan.
Peter Bone said activists in his Wellingborough constituency refused to campaign because they were so angry with the proposed deal.
He said: “They said they were betrayed and they asked, ‘Why do we go out each and every Saturday to support the Conservative Party and get MPs elected?’
“For the first time in over 10 years, that group refused to go out and campaign. What would the Prime Minister say to them?”
The PM replied: “This is not a betrayal. We will end free movement, we will end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, we will stop sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year, we will come out of the Common Agricultural Policy, we will come out of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“I believe that is what people voted for when they voted to leave and we will deliver in faith to the British people.”
And she insisted to Jacob Rees-Mogg that Britain will be able to strike trade deals around the world despite pledging to keep existing standards on goods in the shops.
Mrs May said: “We could tear up all our regulatory standards but I don’t think that’s actually what we should do. I don’t think it’s what this House wants us to do. And I don’t think it’s what the public would want us to do.”
Mr Rees-Mogg earlier praised Boris for standing down, saying his departure was “proof that Chequers is not Brexit”.
Ex-minister John Whittingdale paid tribute to the “bravery and principle” shown by Mr Davis, Mr Johnson and Brexit Minister Steve Baker.
But Ruth Davidson, influential leader of the Scottish Tories, took a jab at Boris as she said the PM was “correct to accept the Foreign Secretary’s resignation”.
Nigel Farage said the news should bring about the end of Mrs May’s career as he called on Tory MPs to stand up for Brexit voters.
Mr Davis said he wasn’t happy to hear Mr Johnson had quit – claiming there was no need for the Foreign Secretary to go because he wouldn’t have a direct role in making the Chequers deal work.
Asked for his reaction during an interview on LBC, the former Brexit Secretary sighed and said: “Regret, really. I had resigned because this was central. This was central to my job and if we continue with this policy and I was still there, I’d have to present it in the House of Commons. I’d have to present it in Europe.
“I’d have to be the champion of the policy which I didn’t believe in, so that doesn’t work. Somebody else can do a better job than me under those circumstances.
“I don’t think it’s central to the Foreign Secretary. It’s a pity, but there we are.”
Labour MPs found out about Boris Johnson’s resignation as they sat – packed in a Committee room – being briefed on the Chequers deal by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington. Laughter erupted when staff couldn’t get the projector to work.
Former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna told The Sun: “It’s gone from soap opera to comedy. David Lidington’s the Deputy PM but he didn’t have a clue about Boris.”
Hilary Benn quipped: “The last time I checked we had a Conservative Government, but it may not be for much longer.”
Labour pro-EU backbencher Mary Creagh stormed: “Boris is an utter disgrace. There is a British woman murdered by a Russian nerve agent on British soil but the Foreign Secretary has decided to quit, putting himself above the national interest, and on the eve of a NATO summit.”
And MP Jess Phillips blasted Boris for quitting over Brexit just weeks after he broke his promise to oppose the third runway at Heathrow.
Michael Gove and Liam Fox, both high-profile Brexiteers who supported the PM at Chequers, are considered favourites to take over as Foreign Secretary.
Mr Davis – who’s said to have been frustrated at being sidelined by Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins – insisted this morning he still backs Mrs May despite throwing her leadership into question by his decision to quit.
Asked if the PM can survive the swirling chaos, he told the BBC’s Today programme: “Oh yes, of course. I like Theresa May, I think she’s a good Prime Minister.”
And he slapped down colleagues who are trying to force Mrs May out, saying: “I won’t be encouraging people to do that. I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
But he repeated his fierce criticism of her Chequers plan and warned the proposal would be watered down in talks by Brussels.
Mr Davis said: “My fear is they’ll take what we’ve offered already and then demand some more. We’re giving too much away, too easily and that’s a dangerous strategy.
“Hopefully we will resist very strongly any attempt to get any further concessions from us on this.”
And he dismissed claims by the Government that the proposal thrashed out at Chequers would give Parliament the right to cast off EU regulations in future, saying the freedom to diverge from Europe’s rules is “illusory rather than real” because doing would be fiercely resisted by Eurocrats.
He also told the BBC he wouldn’t demand the resignation of other ministers such as Boris, because “people can only make these decisions of conscience, decisions of principle, by themselves in their own minds”.
Steve Baker, who resigned as a junior Brexit Minister alongside Mr Davis, also warned other MPs not to launch a leadership challenge to the PM by writing letters to the Tory backbench shop steward.
He said: “There’s no question of letters going in, no question of challenges – what we need is a change of policy, not to challenge the Prime Minister. Don’t put in letters, take stock and change the policy.
“If people think it’s a good idea to enter a three-month leadership contest following by the inevitable General Election that would be needed to fix the numbers, they’re on another planet.”
Mr Davis said the reason he quit was because as Brexit Secretary he’d be responsible for forcing Mrs May’s plans through the Commons, adding: “That’s not a tenable position for somebody who believes in Brexit.”
But he hinted that at least half a dozen ministers had stood up to the PM at Chequers and said: “Some people asked for some of the policies to be changed at the meeting, they weren’t.”
He added that he knew even before the Chequers summit that he’d be unable to back Mrs May on the issue, calling himself “the odd man out” – but waited to hear the PM out and then discussed the issue with his wife over the weekend, before announcing he would quit late last night.
Mr Davis told talkRADIO: “I think it’s a fairly diluted version of Brexit.”
But he added: “My advice to my colleagues is, support the Prime Minister. I don’t agree with the strategy, but she has got to be supported in delivering that strategy.”
In his resignation letter, Mr Davis said there had been a “significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line”.
He added that he had previously decided to toe the line and remain in the Cabinet “because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market”.
But in a damning verdict on the PM’s recent approach, he wrote: “I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely.”
The Prime Minister now faces a stormy meeting with Tory MPs and peers in Parliament this evening as she tries to keep her fragile administration together.
Mrs May had hoped that the Cabinet agreement secured on Friday at Chequers would help her deliver the “right Brexit” for the UK, with an offer to Brussels to share a “common rulebook” on goods and form a new UK-EU free trade area.
But Mr Davis, whose departure as Brexit Secretary also triggered the resignation of departmental ally Steve Baker, lashed out at the proposals just 48 hours after being part of the Cabinet that agreed them.
His letter rubbished Mrs May’s claim that her plan will give Parliament back control of laws “illusory rather than real”.
And he said plans for a “common rulebook” with the EU for the trade of goods “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”.
And in a devastating final blow to the PM, he predicted that her negotiating approach would “just lead to further demands for concessions”.
In her reply, Mrs May told him: “I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed on at Cabinet on Friday.”
She said: “I am sorry that you have chosen to leave the Government when we have already made so much progress towards delivering a smooth and successful Brexit and when we are only eight months from the date set in law when the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.”
This morning, Mrs May appointed Dominic Raab – previously Justice Minister and Housing Minister – as the new Brexit Secretary.
The 44-year-old, who is close to Mr Gove and used to be Mr Davis’ chief of staff, has long been tipped as a rising star destined for the Cabinet. Many see him as one of the most polished and professional of the passionate Brexiteers in the Tory party.
This afternoon it was revealed Kit Malthouse, a junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, was the new Housing Minister.
The 51-year-old former accountant was elected as MP for North West Hampshire in 2015 after having been one of Boris Johnson‘s deputies when he was Mayor of London.
And replacing Mr Baker as Brexit minister is Chris Heaton-Harris, a former MEP who has been the member for Daventry since 2010.
The 50-year-old, who describes himself as a “fierce Eurosceptic”, is a qualified football referee and has become known in Westminster for his Twitter account – which he uses mainly to post one-liner jokes.
Cabinet in chaos again as SEVEN ministers have quit in just eight months
By Jack Wright
DAVID Davis and Boris Johnson are the sixth and seventh ministers to quit Theresa May’s Cabinet in just eight months.
Ex-Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon was forced to resign last October after a flurry of sexual harassment allegations amid the Pestminster sleaze scandal.
The Prime Minister then sacked Priti Patel in November after it emerged the former International Development Secretary commissioned secret diplomacy with Israeli officials and private donor lobbyists.
Next the ex-First Secretary of State Damian Green was dismissed by the Mrs May in December when he misled MPs over allegations of porn on his House of Commons computer.
Education Secretary Justine Greening left the Government after refusing to move to Work and Pensions Secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle in January.
Some junior ministers have also quit in recent weeks, causing yet more headaches for the PM.
Former Justice Minister Philip Lee quit to call for the public to have another referendum on the final Brexit deal, and Trade Minister Greg Hands quit so he could vote against a third runway at Heathrow just last month.
Mr Davis’s exit will also embolden Brexiteer backbench MPs with concerns about Mrs May’s leadership.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who heads up a group of 60 Tory Brexiteers, said: “This is very important. It raises the most serious questions about the PM’s ideas.”
Peter Bone welcomed Mr Davis’s resignation, saying it was “a principled and brave decision”.
“The PM’s proposals for a Brexit in name only are not acceptable,” he said.
Andrea Jenkyns said Mr Davis’s departure was “fantastic news” and hailed Mr Baker as “another courageous and principled MP”.
This morning she insisted Mrs May must resign and let someone else take over, saying: “The time has come that we need a Brexiteer Prime Minister, somebody who really believes in Brexit.
“Theresa May’s premiership is over, MPs in our party need to think long and hard over the next few days. I want one who passionately believes in Brexit, who provides true leadership.”
Andrew Bridgen added: “I think there will be other resignations unless the PM announces the Chequers deal is being shelved.”
But Mr Rees-Mogg urged caution, saying: “I don’t think a no confidence vote is immediately in the offing.
“The Conservative party doesn’t have a great history of changing its leader – I think it’s the policy that matters rather than the leader.”
Theresa May insists she has chosen the ‘right Brexit for Britain’ despite government in chaos
THERESA May will today argue her plan is the “right Brexit for Britain” as she faces a leadership crisis.
The under-fire PM has been slammed over the “soft Brexit” proposal agreed by her Cabinet at Chequers on Friday.
Eurosceptics have accused her of letting down the 17.4million voters who backed Leave.
Last night Brexit Secretary David Davis quit the government in protest at the PM’s plans for a soft Brexit.
Mr Davis announced his resignation just minutes before midnight with a devastating letter warning Mrs May her proposal would leave the UK in “a weak negotiating position” with Brussels.
May will urge the Conservative Party to “stand united” and she faces MPs in the Commons this afternoon before a crunch meeting with backbenchers tonight.
She must talk them round or face plans to oust her as leader.
Eurosceptics claim MPs have started sending no-confidence letters which will spark a leadership contest if 48 are received.
Backbench Tories have urged pro-Brexit ministers to quit in protest at the new Brexit blueprint.
Letters calling for a leadership contest have reportedly been submitted to the backbench 1922 Committee by some Conservatives over the weekend.
Chairman Graham Brady refused to comment today, saying: “My view ever since I became chairman of the ’22 is that it would be entirely improper ever to comment in any way on that subject, because inevitably a commentary could influence the course of events.”
Mrs May is expected to use a Commons statement today to tell MPs that the strategy agreed on at Chequers is the “right Brexit” for Britain.
She repeated her defence of her plans – insisting her blueprint would “undoubtedly mean the returning of powers from Brussels”.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a key ally of Mrs May, today praised Mr Davis as a “key architect” of Brexit who has “real integrity” – but claimed his resignation won’t distract the PM from getting on with the job.
He told the BBC: ”The one thing that will damage our country the most is if we don’t get behind our Prime Minister.”
Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House who campaigned for Brexit, added: “My eyes are fixed on the prize, I am a massive believer on the opportunity of Brexit.”
And calling on the EU to step up the pace of talks on a future trade deal, she said: “David Davis has always been a voice of claim in all this, in return for which we’ve had nothing but insults and stonewalling.”
Labour called for the PM to quit herself following Mr Davis’ resignation.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “David Davis resigning at such a crucial time shows Theresa May has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit.
“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.”
Party chairman Ian Lavery added: “This is absolute chaos and Theresa May has no authority left.
“The Prime Minister is in office but not in power. She cannot deliver Brexit and our country is at a complete standstill, while the Tories indulge in their leadership tussling.
What is Theresa May’s third way on Brexit?
THERESA May has adopted a “third way
The New Customs Partnership which would see Britain collect tariffs on behalf of the EU was rejected outright by Brexiteers in the Cabinet.
And trade experts warned that the technology needed to make Max Fac – a solution which replaces border controls with electronic monitoring – work won’t be ready in time for Brexit.
The third way is designed to bring a compromise on customs between the two systems.
Britain would scrap the blanket tariffs applied by the EU on most goods coming in from outside Europe, and instead set its own import duties.
That is essential in letting the UK strike new trade deals with the rest of the world, with goods coming in tariff-free from countries such as the US.
But to enable big companies to continue using supply chains which span the whole of Europe, Britain will continue to apply EU tariffs on around 4 per cent of products – classified as “unfinished goods”.
And European tariffs will also be put on goods which pass through Britain’s ports on their way to the EU, but never enter the domestic economy.
Another measure which would tie the UK closely to the EU is Mrs May’s proposal for “full regulatory alignment” for goods.
That means Britain would copy European regulations on what products can be sold in shops.
It’s intended to ensure goods can still be imported and exported freely, while avoiding curbs on the services sector which makes up most of our economy.
But it could prove controversial because it may hinder trade deals with countries who have different standards for their goods.
“We can’t go on like this. Britain needs a functioning Government.”
Labour MPs have been asked to attend a meeting with Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell today, in an attempt to win them over to the PM’s Chequers deal – which could be the Tories’ only chance to get the plans successfully through the House of Commons.
Allies of Mr Davis said he decided to quit because he felt the PM’s proposals for a common rulebook with the EU and plans to keep Britain tied to 40 years of EU laws broke the Tory manifesto and Mrs May’s own red lines on leaving.
Sarah O’Grady, wife of Mr Davis’s chief of staff Stewart Jackson, said Mr Davis wanted to “honour manifesto promises to Britons”.
How David Davis repeatedly clashed with May over Brexit policy
By Jack Wright
DAVID Davis has repeatedly disagreed with Number 10 Brexit – and threatened to resign multiple times.
He was disappointed with the UK government’s “acceptance” of the European Commission’s negotiations sequencing last summer.
Then he resented the UK-EU negotiating bodies’ language on Northern Ireland in the December deal, which would keep the UK in “full alignment” with the EU in a last resort, and dismissed the document as a “legally unenforceable thing”.
Mr Davis also felt aggrieved by plans to stay close to EU regulations when we leave too, believing that meant we wouldn’t be free enough to change the rules after we leave.
And, last month he threatened to quit if Mrs May didn’t include a firm cut-off to the transition period in the government’s backstop proposal – which the PM added in at the last minute after he protested.
It seems the most recent Chequers summit was one step too far for Mr Davis.
The ex-Brexit Secretary has form for resignations – in 2008, he quit as David Cameron’s Shadow Home Secretary and triggered a by-election in protest at plans to limit the civil liberties of terror suspects.
She added: “DD decided he couldn’t sellout his own country.”
Mr Davis’s department – technically in charge of Brexit negotiations – had been kept in the dark over the PM’s final Brexit blueprint that was presented to the Cabinet on Friday.
He was understood only to have seen the plans at the same time as other Cabinet ministers on Thursday afternoon.
He and Mr Johnson were furious at the PM for showing the proposals to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before them.
Six in 10 don’t back blueprint
SIX in ten Tory members think Theresa May’s Brexit plan would deliver a bad deal for Britain and don’t support it, a poll has revealed.
Just 31 per cent of members said the PM’s blueprint would be a good deal for Britain, according to a survey by ConservativeHome website.
Eight per cent were left undecided.
A separate poll for the Mail on Sunday found 38 per cent of the public viewed Mrs May’s new proposals as a “sell-out”.
It found the Tories have lost their lead over Labour. Jeremy Corbyn’s party leapfrogged the Tories and now lead by 40-38 per cent.
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