International desk: Brexit Secretary David Davis dramatically resigned late last night, sparking a Brexiteer rebellion over Theresa May’s plan to make a soft exit from the EU – leaving the Prime Minister fighting for her political life.
Mr Davis quit the government last night telling the PM that her policies could leave the UK in a ‘weak and inescapable’ negotiating position, two days after ministers had finally agreed a plan for Britain’s departure from the European Union, The Daily Mail reports.
Steve Baker and Suella Braverman, junior ministers in the Brexit department, were also reported to have quit the government last night amid speculation that further Cabinet ministers would follow Mr Davis to the exit.
The Brexit rebellion throws negotiations into chaos and leaves Mrs May in a perilous position as she faces the House of Commons and then a potentially stormy meeting of Tory MPs on Monday.
The PM was set to insist she has chosen the ‘right Brexit for Britain’ as she tries to quell a backbench revolt but has come under fire from Tory MPs who have accused her of delivering a ‘soft Brexit’ which would Britain tied to EU rules.
Mr Davis reportedly ‘decided he couldn’t sell out his own country’, according to sources close to him. He was praised last night by Tory MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said he would oppose Mrs May’s Brexit proposals.
The Prime Minister secured Cabinet backing for her strategy in a marathon meeting at Chequers on Friday and was set to urge the Conservative Party to ‘stand united’ behind her in a showdown meeting with backbenchers tonight.
But Eurosceptics plotting against the Prime Minister earlier claimed MPs have begun sending no-confidence letters, which will trigger a leadership contest if 48 are received.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last night that the PM ‘has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit.’ If Mrs May resigns the opposition will have a fighting chance of winning a subsequent general election and taking charge of Brexit negotiations. He said: ‘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.’
In his letter Mr Davis, describing himself as a ‘reluctant conscript’ to the PM’s proposals, told Theresa May ‘the current trend of policy and tactics’ is making it ‘look less and less likely’ that the UK will leave the customs union and single market.
He said: ‘At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and 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.
‘I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactic is making that look like and less likely.
‘The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real.’I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.’
In her reply to David Davis, Theresa May told him: ‘I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed 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.’
Listing 12 ways in which the plans would honour manifesto commitments she said the Cabinet had agreed a ‘precise, responsible and credible basis’ for delivering Brexit, but her government is now in chaos just eight months before the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU.
Mr Davis, a former SAS reservist elected an MP in 1997, ran for the party leadership in 2005 but lost the election to David Cameron.
In 2008 he quit his role as shadow Home Secretary and stood down as an MP to force a by-election, which he intended to fight on the Labour government’s record on civil liberties, although other major parties did not contest it.
After returning to the front bench in 2016 he had been at the centre of Brexit negotiations, but in recent months had become increasingly frustrated that he was losing influence.
David Davis’s resignation letter to Theresa May in full as Brexit secretary rocks the government by quitting
‘Dear Prime Minister
‘As you know there have been a significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line, ranging from accepting the Commission’s sequencing of negotiations through to the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report. At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and 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.
‘I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely. Whether it is the progressive dilution of what I thought was a firm Chequers agreement in February on right to diverge, or the unnecessary delays of the start of the White Paper, or the presentation of a backstop proposal that omitted the strict conditions that I requested and believed that we had agreed, the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.
‘The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the ‘common rule book’ policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.
‘I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions. Of course this is a complex area of judgement and it is possible that you are right and I am wrong. However, even in that event it seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my Department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript. While I have been grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, it is with great regret that I tender my resignation from the Cabinet with immediate effect.
He had written to the PM on the eve of the Chequers summit to say that the new plan was doomed to be rejected by Brussels and was a waste of the government’s time.
Mr Davis was understood to have expressed fears that rubber stamping the plan at Chequers would delay progress because the EU will inevitably reject it – sending the UK back to the drawing board.
It is also claimed he objected to the way in which the Cabinet was treated at Chequers, where ministers were told to hand in their phones to avoid leaks.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, backed by some Tory MPs and activists as a potential successor to Mrs May, reportedly said it had been a mistake for the Prime Minister to ‘bounce’ the Cabinet into supporting her plans.
He said: ‘This is very important. It raises the most serious questions about the PM’s ideas.’
Last night he told BBC 5Live: ‘These proposals will have to come to the House of Commons in legislation and the question is ‘will they command support from Conservative MPs?’.
‘And I think without David Davis there, without his imprimatur, it will be very difficult for them to get the support of Conservative MPs and therefore the Prime Minister would be well advised to reconsider them.’
Number 10 reportedly said a new Brexit secretary would be appointed in the morning, according to the Spectator. It is not clear who could replace Mr Davis.
An online poll of Tory members by the Conservative Home website revealed widespread unhappiness with the Chequers plan amongst the party faithful.
Some 61 per cent of the 1,225 respondents said that that proposal would be a bad deal for Britain, compared to 31 per cent who thought it would be good. A further eight per cent were unsure.
Brexiteer Tory MP Peter Bone also supported his decision to quit, saying: ‘David Davis has done the right thing, a principled and brave decision. The PM’s proposals for a Brexit in name only are not acceptable.’
Andrea Jenkyns MP tweeted: ‘Fantastic news. Well done David Davis for having the principle and guts to resign. I take my hat off to you. We need to make sure this is now a game changer for Brexit.’
She also hailed Mr Baker as ‘another courageous and principled MP’.
Ms Jenkyns, who quit a junior government role earlier this year to ‘fight for Brexit’, called on Boris Johnson to follow Mr Davis out of the government.
However the BBC reported sources close to the Foreign Secretary had said no statement was planned for Monday.
Fellow MP William Wragg, who campaigned for Brexit in the referendum, tweeted: ‘I’ve reserved judgement on the Chequers’ Brexit plan, but I have grave misgivings about it and understand entirely why @DavidDavisMP has found it necessary to resign. It was the right thing to do.’
And Laurence Robertson MP said: ‘David Davis has taken the only genuine option available to him. Rather than just appoint someone else to replace him, the PM needs to recognise that his resignation represents the views of many Conservative MPs, activists and voters.’
Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: ‘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.
‘We can’t go on like this. Britain needs a functioning government.’
Key Corbyn ally John McDonnell said: ‘With a Prime Minister incapable of holding her ministerial team together & with such instability in government it’s impossible to see how EU leaders could take Theresa May seriously in the next round of negotiations.
‘It’s time for her & her party to put country before party & go.’
The country now faces the prospect of another early general election if Mrs May does not survive the Brexit rebellion.
Labour MP Seema Malhotra, who sits on the Commons Brexit Select Committee, tweeted: ‘Will there be a domino effect?
‘It’s now not inconceivable that May is gone within days or weeks, the Tories are plunged into disarray and a general election called.’
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry listed the resignations of Government ministers since November last year – Sir Michael Fallon, Priti Patel, Damian Green, Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and now David Davis.
‘There have been six resignations in 249 days. That’s one every six weeks,’ she said.
Under Mrs May’s plans Britain would have a ‘common rulebook’ for food, farm and manufactured goods, shadowing EU regulations and intended to avoid friction at the border.
The PM pledged that Britain would be able to deliver an independent trade policy, with its own seat at the World Trade Organisation, the ability to set its own tariffs and secure deals with other countries.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had backed the proposals at Chequers despite claiming that defending the plans was like ‘polishing a t***’ during the meeting.
But arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg hit out at the ‘defeatism’ in the Government’s plans, warning that he would vote against them – and suggested other Eurosceptics may do the same.
Brexiteer Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘I can’t support the offer which emerged at Chequers – I think it’s a breach of the red lines, in fact the offer is so poor that I couldn’t support it even if the EU were paying us for it.
‘Obviously if the Government and the Prime Minister continue to support that very poor offer then I won’t have any confidence in the Government or the Prime Minister.’
He said he would ‘listen to what the Prime Minister has got to say on Monday evening at the 1922 Committee’ before deciding what action to take.
Mr Bridgen said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ with Brexiteer ministers that they ‘didn’t pick up the cudgels and prevent the Cabinet supporting this offer which I think is a huge mistake for our country, for the party, for the Government and for the Prime Minister’.
The Prime Minister was set to insist that the plan, which would see the UK share a ‘common rulebook’ for goods as part of a proposal to create a UK-EU free trade area, still meets her Brexit red lines.
She will say: ‘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.
Mrs May will also hit back at claims that the plan could hinder Britain’s ability to strike trade deals after Brexit, saying: ‘They are wrong.’
She will add: ‘When we have left the EU the UK will have our own independent trade policy – with our own seat at the World Trade Organisation and the ability to set tariffs for our trade with the rest of the world.’Mrs May will say her plan will mean ‘a complete end to freedom of movement, taking back control of our borders’ as well as ‘no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU’ and ‘the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world’.
Michael Gove was previously lashed as the ‘snake in the grass’ responsible for betraying the referendum yesterday but he insisted May’s Brexit blueprint would honour the 2016 vote.
Asked if the plan was everything he hoped for, Mr Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘No, but then I’m a realist and one of the things about politics is you mustn’t, you shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.’
In a sign of the anger and division amongst the Eurosceptics, backbench MPs yesterday said they had sent messages to the Brexiteers in the Cabinet, asking: ‘Where is your backbone?’
Some Remain-supporting politicians said the resignation of Mr Davis was evidence of the need for a second referendum.
Baron Adonis, a prominent backer of the move, tweeted: ‘People’s Vote to put Brexit out of its misery a big step closer after DD’s resignation. Now the Brexiters holding Mrs May hostage are falling out, there isn’t a majority for ANY withdrawal treaty in Parliament.’
The Liberal Democrats called on people to sign a petition for a vote on the Brexit deal, adding: ‘The resignation of David Davis is yet more evidence of the chaos of this Tory Brexit. You deserve the final say on this shambolic Brexit with the chance to stay in the EU.’
Meanwhile EU diplomats last night criticised Theresa May’s new Brexit plan for taking a ‘have cake and eat it’ approach to the single market.
The Prime Minister will have to water down her proposals even further to please Brussels and strike a deal, European leaders and officials believe.
EU negotiators want to study the full 120-page White Paper – to be published by Downing Street on Thursday – but yesterday expressed scepticism about whether the new British plan will be acceptable to Brussels.
The main sticking point is Mrs May’s proposal to keep the UK tied to the EU on goods and agricultural products only.
The bloc has long warned it will not accept any ‘cherry-picking’ in relation to the single market’s four freedoms on goods, services, people and capital.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs and trade, said the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, will find it ‘difficult’ to accept the proposal.
He added: ‘The EU has never been keen to facilitate a breaking up of an approach toward the single market in terms of keeping all of the elements of the single market intact and consistent, so I think Britain will find it difficult to persuade the EU to support the approach they’re now proposing.
‘Michel Barnier will be a very, very strong defender of the EU interests here, in terms of protecting the integrity of the single market and the integrity of the EU customs union.’
Prime Minister Theresa May has faced a series of Cabinet members leaving their positions since the snap election last June.
The first to leave was defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who resigned his post after being caught up in Westminster sleaze allegations.
He said his behaviour had ‘fallen below the high standards required’ after he admitted putting his hand on the knee of radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer some years ago when he resigned on November 1.
One week later, Priti Patel quit as international development secretary over undisclosed and unauthorised meetings in Israel, including with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In her resignation letter, she echoed the words of Sir Michael, saying her actions ‘fell below the high standards’ expected.
The following month, Ms May’s deputy Damian Green left the Cabinet after a probe found he made ‘inaccurate and misleading’ statements about pornography on his computer.
Justine Greening was sacked in the PM’s reshuffle in January after refusing to move from her education post to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Home secretary Amber Rudd resigned in April after admitting she had ‘inadvertently’ misled MPs over the existence of targets for removing illegal immigrants over the Windrush scandal.