UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has become the second cabinet minister to quit, as bitter divisions over Britain’s departure from the European Union, or Brexit, deepen a political crisis threatening Prime Minister Theresa May‘s government.
Johnson’s departure on Monday came a day after David Davis, the British minister in charge of Brexit negotiations, also stepped down amid disagreement’s over the country’s strategy.
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The two resignations leave May badly exposed and raise questions over whether she will stand firm in her commitment to pursuing a “business-friendly” Brexit, or will be faced with more resignations and calls to quit herself.
“This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary,” May’s spokesman said in a statement.
“The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.”
Later on Monday, May named Jeremy Hunt as foreign secretary. Earlier in the day, the prime minister’s office announced the appointment of Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary.
Johnson, a former mayor of the UK capital of London and a polarising figure, was a leading spokesperson for the campaign calling for Britain’s departure from the EU in advance of a June 2016 referendum.
He has always supported a so-called “hard Brexit”, which supports relinquishing access to the bloc’s single market in exchange for full border control.
Johnson posted his full resignation letter on Twitter, adding that he was proud to have served as foreign secretary.
I am proud to have served as Foreign Secretary. It is with sadness that I step down: here is my letter explaining why. pic.twitter.com/NZXzUZCjdF
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 9, 2018
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London, said Johnson’s departure left the British government in crisis mode.
“Johnson, whether you like him or not, is a very big figure in British politics and he’s a man around whom hard right-wing, anti-EU ‘Brexiteers’ could easily coalesce,” said Lee.
May, the leader of the Conservative party, believed she had secured a hard-won agreement with her deeply divided cabinet of ministers on Friday to keep the closest possible trading ties with the EU.
But it soon began to unravel, when Davis resigned late on Sunday and launched a no-holds-barred attack on her plan, calling it “dangerous” and one which would give “too much away, too easily” to EU negotiators, who would simply ask for more.
Still, May on Monday defended Friday’s deal, which would allow for some ties between Britain and the EU.
“This is the Brexit that is in our national interest. It is the Brexit that will deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” May told parliament.
“It is the right Brexit deal for the people.”
May has been trying for months to solve internal issues within the ruling Conservatives about which course to take before Brexit takes effect on March 29, 2019.
“For some people like Johnson, Brexit meant severing every single tie with Europe. For others, it meant trying to maintain a certain relationship with the EU, including economic ties,” said Al Jazeera’s Lee.
“For all these months, May has been trying to square this circle and balance off the opposing wings within the party.”
Two years ago, the UK shocked the world by narrowly voting to withdraw from the EU after a fevered referendum campaign that sharpened regional divisions and exposed deep distrust between voters and the political establishment.
After the announcement of the cabinet deal on Friday, several members of the Conservative Party publicly voiced their unhappiness with some of its aspects.
The chairman of the Leave Means Leave campaign group accused May of deceiving Brexit campaigners. “May’s Brexit means BRINO – Brexit In Name Only – a fake Brexit,” John Longworth said.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a key figure in the Conservative arty’s “hard Brexit” faction, also said the agreement would be “worse” than a UK exit from the EU with no deal at all.
Reactions on Johnson’s departure
Several key figures spoke out about Johnson’s decision to leave his post and the growing divisions within the ruiling party.
Jeremy Corbyn, main opposition leader, said on Twitter the UK “needs a government that is capable of governing”. The Labour Party leader’s comment came after saying on Sunday that Davis’ resignation was proof 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,” he tweeted.
We need a government that is capable of governing. pic.twitter.com/HWvoxyEyVw
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) July 9, 2018
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon shared a tweet by her MP Ian Blackford, who said Johnson “should have been sacked months ago”.
Hear, hear. https://t.co/3MYXlQ2oFr
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) July 9, 2018
Former UKIP leader and one of the key figures in the Brexit campaign, Nigel Farage, said he is considering a return as leader of the far-right party he stepped down from shortly after the Brexit referendum.
Farage said “the will of 17.4m voters must be carried out.”
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 9, 2018
President of the European Council Donald Tusk said that despite Davis’ and Johnson’s resignations, Brexit remains a problem.
Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain. I can only regret that the idea of #Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson. But…who knows?
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) July 9, 2018
Guy Verhofstadt, lead negotiator on Brexit for the European Parliament, said about Davis’ resignation that he had always worked well with him, adding that he hopes “the UK unites around a position to conclude a broad Association Agreement with the EU. It is in the interest of both that we move the negotiations forward.”