Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned on Sunday, midnight; he was followed by his junior minister Steve Baker.
Davis’ resignation comes as a response to Theresa May’s new Brexit plan, which he called “weak,” as it would only lead to further calls for concessions from Brussels.
The British prime minister rejected the criticism to the plan but accepted the resignation.
Since 2016, this is the first time May is taking a resolute stand to oppose Brexit hardliners. Boris Johnson is said to be equally critical of May’s proposals, although he has not resigned; on Friday, he reiterated the view the UK could turn into an EU “vassal state.”
Four Conservative MPs have rushed to welcome the Davis’ resignation.
Peter Bone welcomed the resignation as “brave and principled”; William Wragg said the resignation was “the right thing to do;” Andrea Jenkyns said it was “fantastic news.” The Brexit hardliner-in-chief, Jacob Rees Mogg, was quick to note that May would find it very difficult to rally backbenchers without Davis and warned that May “would be well advised” to revise her policy proposals.
Nigel Farage was also swift to congratulate Davis.
In a letter to the Mail on Sunday, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said May’s proposals were intended to “dupe the electorate.”
Among prominent Brexiteers, only Michael Gove went out of his way to publicly support Theresa May.
The question is now whether this move signals the beginning of a series of resignations by hardliners in May’s cabinet and a backbenchers’ revolt in parliament. The prime minister leads a minority government, which depends on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Later in the day, the UK prime minister is expected to defend the agreement she concluded with her cabinet on Friday as “the right Brexit.”
Theresa May put forward on Friday a proposal that will advance the negotiating agenda.
She proposed a “common rulebook for all goods,” which was in effect a call for the UK’s voluntary compliance with EU regulation for goods (“continued harmonization”). That would not be extended in services, but then again this was never on offer from Brussels.
In this case, the UK’s membership contributions will be replaced by “appropriate” and presumably smaller contributions. In any event, regular contributions would continue until 2021; for as long as the UK continues to pay into the budget, it appears the UK financial services would have access to the Single Market.
In theory, the UK parliament retains the prerogative to diverge from EU regulation, assuming the consequences of disruption. This voluntary compliance would include “cooperation” between regulatory authorities.
May also proposes a “combined tariffs” territory, meaning that the UK can apply its own customs regime but will collect tariffs for goods heading for the Single Market. This should allow the status quo to be maintained in Ireland but it is unclear whether this solution is workable. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says May’s proposals are “a bureaucratic nightmare” and wants a “comprehensive customs union.” His views were echoed by over 100 business people, the Observer reports.
When it comes to the crucial question of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, Theresa May is proposing “joint jurisdiction,” which in effect means UK tribunals would have to consider EU case law and the continued application of EU regulation. Some cases will still be referred to ECJ, although it wouldn’t have the final say in a dispute.
Finally, May is proposing a “mobility framework” for study and work; this could resemble the status quo. Home Secretary Sajid Javid is said to be resisting the idea of “preferential treatment” for EU nationals, but May has made no policy commitment to this effect.
Despite all compromises, Michael Gove still believes this proposal would allow the UK to negotiate its own trade policies across “swathes” of the economy. For most Brexiteers, the whole proposal looks too close to the status quo to appear as a “genuine” Brexit.
No way out
Most Brexit critics saw May’s proposals as the base for a workable compromise; Brexit hardliners saw it as “a fudge.”
May’s supporters on Friday were congratulating themselves for a well-made deal that committed the cabinet as a whole. The art of the timing was calculating that no one would resign when all headlines would be focusing on football. In the meantime, prominent Brexiteers would move to win the public argument.
The plan failed, which makes comments critical of Mrs May’s proposals less relevant. The proposal is as tenable as the prime minister’s position.
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, was swift to note that Mays proposal was once again the UK “picking and choosing” what elements of the single market its wants. However, in an interview with the Irish public broadcaster (RTE), he acknowledged that the proposal was “a move in the right direction” and would be taken seriously. The question now is who will be negotiating with Brussels and on what mandate.
For some Remain MPs, Davis’ resignation signals the need for a second referendum.
The call comes from Tory Remain campaigners, the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberals, and a significant minority of Labour MPs. Having lost control of the cabinet or the parliament, hardline Brexiteers may welcome the prospect.