'It looks less and less likely we'll deliver on referendum result' - David Davis resigns as Brexit Secretary
British government in chaos as key Tory ministers quit over deal
Brexit Secretary David Davis and his junior minister have both dramatically quit within minutes of each other in a major blow to Theresa May that throws her plans for leaving the EU into chaos.
The prime minister had been trying to keep Tory Brexiteers happy after a backlash against her EU exit proposals unveiled last week.
But Mr Davis, who signed up to the plan agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers on Friday, resigned last night, quickly followed by Brexit junior minister Steve Baker.
In his resignation letter, Mr Davis said the "current trend of policy and tactics" was making it look "less and less likely" that Brexit would deliver on the referendum result and the Tory commitments to leave the EU customs union and single market.
Mr Davis said "the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one".
The "common rulebook" plan "hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense," he wrote to Mrs May.
"I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions," he added.
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."
Their exits may embolden Brexiteer backbenchers with concerns about Mrs May’s leadership. All eyes will now be on prominent Eurosceptic Boris Johnson as to whether he leads a push against the prime minister. Mr Davis and Mr Baker could also be followed out the door by other Tory ministers unhappy about the Chequers plans.
The move comes on the eve of a major test for Mrs May as she faces first the House of Commons and then a potentially stormy meeting of Tory MPs and peers today.
Mrs May is expected to tell MPs that the strategy agreed on at Chequers is the “right Brexit” for Britain.
Even before the shock resignations last night, key Brexit cheerleader Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would oppose the prime minister’s “misfounded” Cabinet agreement and suggested that other Conservative eurosceptic MPs would do the same.
“If the proposals are as they currently appear, I will vote against them and others may well do the same,” he said writing in the ‘Daily Telegraph’.
Mr Rees-Mogg leads a 60-strong group of Tory Brexiteers.
The strategy, which is due to be detailed further in a White Paper later this week, looks to keep the UK remaining inside a free-trade area with the EU for goods and agriculture, but not for services.
It also commits to ending the free movement of people and the supremacy of the European court.
It is largely expected that the EU, which objects to any separation of the four freedoms of the free market – the free movement of goods, services, people and capital – will reject the idea that Britain can retain this type of partial access to the single market.
Reacting to the departure of Mr Davis, 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.”
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.”
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he is concerned about the “workability” of Mrs May’s blueprint for negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
He warned yesterday that while it marks “real progress”, it must not be “over-egged”.
Mr Varadkar noted that the integrity of the free market must be respected in any deal.
He said he would not like to over-egg the three-page agreement adding that the “devil will be in the detail”.
However, he said he was more optimistic that an agreement could be reached in advance of the October deadline.
At a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the Taoiseach suggested using a summit scheduled to take place in Salzburg in September to discuss Brexit but said it was too soon to make a judgement call on whether that would be necessary.
Mr Kurz signalled that he would be amenable to such a suggestion and confirmed his commitment to keeping Ireland at the forefront of negotiations.
Mr Varadkar said when it comes to the latest agreement, there were “many open questions” around the UK’s proposals for market access.
He said the Irish Government would be able to offer a considered opinion after seeing the white paper, but noted that it marked a political success for Mrs May two years on.
Mr Varadkar also said he expected detail to be released this month on the preparations under way for a no-deal scenario, which he deemed unlikely.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned “there’s a long way to go” but said he believed the agreement meant “serious negotiation” could now start.
Mr Coveney said concern had been expressed about any UK approach which could be seen as an a la carte approach to the Single Market and Customs Union and said “anything that undermines the integrity” of either would be opposed.
However, he said the softening of red lines on the part of the UK would be met with “generosity” from the EU.
With additional reporting from the Press Association