Brexit Secretary David Davis has resigned from the UK government in protest at Theresa May’s plans for future ties with the EU.
The surprise announcement late on Sunday night follows tensions in the Cabinet over the prime minister’s vision for the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, which has been heavily criticised by the pro-Brexit wing of her party.
Davis – who has been leading Britain’s negotiations to leave the bloc – said he was not willing to be a “reluctant conscript” to May’s plan, which we argued would leave Parliament with “at best a weak negotiating position”.
He was replaced on Monday morning by Dominic Raab, previously a housing minister, who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU during the 2016 referendum campaign.
Brexit supporters argue that the prime minister's plan will tie the UK too closely to EU rules, hampering its ability to strike trade deals around the world, and keeping the country subservient to Brussels.
His departure comes two days after Theresa May secured the Cabinet's backing at a special summit at her countryside residence at Chequers, for her Brexit plan despite claims from Brexiteers that it was too "soft".
It was followed in the early hours of Monday morning by the resignation of Steve Baker, a junior minister in the government, who also worked in the Department for Exiting the European Union under Davis. A government official denied that another Brexit department minister, Suella Braverman, had resigned.
The loss of her chief negotiator is a blow to the prime minister and comes as she prepares to face the House of Commons and then Tory MPs and peers on Monday to discuss her Brexit plans.
Theresa May replied to Davis’ letter, saying she did not agree “with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at Cabinet on Friday”.
On Friday night she appeared to have persuaded hardline Brexiteers in the Cabinet, including Davis, to back her plan. It vows to press for a free trade area for goods with the EU and maintain close links.
David Davis had already expressed unease over the compromise plan. Some Brexit enthusiasts among Conservative backbenchers have welcomed his resignation, and believe it may boost their cause. They have criticised the Chequers deal as offering a soft Brexit that betrays what they believe was a mandate for a clean break with the EU.
On the other side of the argument, many businesses, institutions and other organisations have warned of dire consequences for jobs and the economy if the UK fails to agree terms with Brussels that maintain close links to the bloc.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his departure showed May had not authority left and was “incapable of delivering Brexit”.
The UK is set to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019 and negotiators are under pressure to secure a deal by this autumn, in order for it to be ratified in time.