Theresa May battles for political survival as ministers resign over Brexit

LONDON - UK Prime Minister Theresa May is attempting to face down the biggest crisis of her leadership, as she denounced her former Foreign Secretary for resigning over her Brexit strategy and demanded loyalty from the rest of her Cabinet.

May delivered a stinging rebuke to Boris Johnson, who became the second leading pro-Brexit figure to quit the Cabinet within 24 hours after David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary. Three other junior members of her government also stepped down, in a tumultuous day for the Prime Minister.

She moved swiftly to replace the ministers who quit, in a move that suggested she was prepared for resignations after forcing through a hard-won deal on Brexit at a special Cabinet summit Friday. That deal, which will form the basis of negotiations with the EU, envisages a closer future relationship with the EU than many Brexit supporters in her Conservative party can stomach.

But May's calculation is that they do not have enough support to topple her. She replaced Johnson with Jeremy Hunt, formerly the Health Secretary, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU in the runup to the 2016 Brexit referendum. His appointment means that the four most senior positions in the UK executive -- Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary -- are now held by people who campaigned for Remain in the referendum.

Davis' replacement, Dominic Raab, supported the Leave campaign, but not in as high profile a role as Johnson or Davis.

The replacement of hardline Brexiteer Johnson with pro-Europe Hunt sets the stage for an ugly fight over the Conservatives' Brexit strategy and a potential challenge to May's leadership that, if it fails, will largely do so on the fear of handing the reins of power to the opposition Labour Party.

In his resignation letter to May, Johnson said the Brexit "dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt," and savaged her strategy in negotiations with Europe.

In particular, he rejected the deal agreed by himself and other cabinet members at the prime minister's Chequers residence last week as leaving the UK in "the status of 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 said.

May's response was far more forceful than she has been previously, including in her note accepting Davis' resignation, telling Johnson it was "no longer the case" that she would allow members of Cabinet "considerable latitude to express their views."

Even in government, Johnson had been a prominent critic of May and Brexit negotiations, undermining her authority and testing constitutional conventions that all members of Cabinet should support decisions made by it

In Parliament to defend her strategy Monday, May was savagely criticized by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party is rapidly entering election mode in the hopes that the government -- which only has a one seat majority in parliament -- will soon collapse.

"At such a crucial time for our country in these vital negotiations, we need a government that is capable of governing and negotiating for Britain," Corbyn said, to loud approval from the opposition benches. "For the good of this country and its people, the government needs to get its act together and do it quickly, and if it can't, make way for those who can."

May is in the bizarre situation of fending off attacks from Corbyn, using him as the bogeyman to stave off Tory party rebels, and potentially depending on his party for votes to pass any Brexit legislation.

The deal agreed at Chequers last week -- which has yet to be put to the EU -- represents a far softer vision of Brexit than many of the hardliners in May's party have publicly pledged to pursue, setting the stage for a significant rebellion from the Tory backbenches.

In an opinion piece Monday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading anti-EU figure promoted by some Conservatives as a future party leader, said if the Chequers deal was presented to Parliament "I will vote against (it), and others may well do the same."

"If they plan to get this deal through on the back of Labour votes, that would be the most divisive thing that they can do," Rees-Mogg told the Guardian after reports a senior May aide had briefed opposition MPs on her Brexit plan.

While Labour has advocated a "soft Brexit" which retains many of the benefits of the EU -- chiefly the customs union and single market -- there is no guarantee Corbyn's party would support May's strategy when it could capitalize on a fractured government to leapfrog into power.

"Theresa May has successfully kicked the can down the road on a number of occasions, but now she has run out of road," Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer wrote after Johnson's resignation.

"It is now time for the majority in parliament to be heard. It's a majority that rejects the extreme approach to Brexit advocated by some in the Tory party. The prime minister has shown she is incapable of negotiating a way forward. She should let parliament lead the way.

As if attempting to balance negotiations with Tory rebels, opposition figures, and European ministers was not enough, May could also face a leadership challenge in the coming days or weeks.

Johnson invited photographers to witness him signing his resignation letter to May, earning him a prominent position on the front page of the right wing Daily Telegraph, under the headline "The Brexit dream is dying."

His theatrics will do nothing to quash suspicions that he hopes to replace May as leader, even as Rees-Mogg said Johnson would make a "brilliant prime minister."

A leadership challenge can be sparked by 48 MPs writing to the Conservative's influential 1922 Committee, and while aides of May have been briefing the press that she is confident of fending off any such vote, it is surely not something she relishes.

The potential wild card in all of this is the Democratic Unionist Party, the group of hardline right wing Northern Irish MPs upon whom May depends for her parliamentary majority.


Comments (2)

Either way , JC becoming the PM , the Tories will achieve the Brexit main goal. Chakangonaka , zvipoko zvirimu London zvicharamba zvichifema asi ma ayirishi/skoti ndoanehutsinye hwakanyanya kudarika ma british...vasina mapepa hamuwawani for a good 20 yrs.

The best Option - 10 July 2018

Chamisa uchapa mapurazi varungu here ? , that is all what matters. Pasina mapurazi hapana hushamwari. Ma KKK parties , anoda vanhu vavo kutanga outside the EU, vachisenzesa mabhoyi kuwana zvavanoda. It does not mean kana vane ma ministers vatema ndiyo pati irinani.

The Options - 10 July 2018

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