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Boris Johnson joins 'Brexodus' from UK Cabinet

July 9, 2018

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned, becoming the latest Brexiteer to quit PM Theresa May's Cabinet. It follows May's attempts to strong arm her Cabinet into accepting a so-called "soft Brexit."

Großbritannien Boris Johnson in London
Image: Reuters/H. McKay

Boris Johnson announced his resignation as UK foreign minister on Monday. It was the second resignation from Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet in less than 24 hours, after Brexit Secretary David Davis' quit his post on Sunday.

Downing Street announced that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would take Johnson's place. Hunt, a conservative member of parliament, is thought to be more closely aligned with May's views on Brexit.

David Davis was replaced by Dominic Raab, a Euroskeptic junior housing minister, who was a "Leave" campaigner in 2016.

Read more: Opinion: Chaos rules supreme in London

The announcement of Johnson's departure followed a day of confusion, with the minister absent first from a COBRA national security meeting connected to Russia and Novichok, and then from an EU-Balkans summit he was hosting in London. 

"This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary," an emailed statement from May's office said. "His replacement will be announced shortly. The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work."


The departures represent a blow to Theresa May, as Johnson and Davis are the sixth and seventh cabinet secretaries to leave her government since the ill-fated June 2016 snap election that shrunk the size of the Conservatives majority in parliament.

Conflict over 'soft Brexit'

Boris Johnson and former Brexit Secretary David Davis' resignations underline May's struggle to unite her Conservative party as negotiations for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union enter their crucial phase.

During a 12-hour Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's country residence Chequers on Friday, May appeared to have secured approval for a so-called "soft Brexit" — with the UK retaining strong economic ties to the EU after leaving. However, in private, Johnson, a vocal pro-Brexit voice in the government, reportedly criticized May's plans as "polishing a turd."

In her letter to Johnson, May said: "I am sorry — and a little surprised — to receive (the resignation letter) after the productive discussions we had at Chequers on Friday, and the comprehensive and detailed proposal which we agreed as a Cabinet."

After announcing his resignation late on Sunday, Davis told British media he was stepping down because he did not believe in May's Brexit plan, claiming it would leave the UK "in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one."

Both Davis and Johnson are said to now believe that a "no deal" Brexit would be preferable to May's plans.

Addressing parliament after Johnson's resignation in a turbulent atmosphere, May also repeatedly alluded to the prospect of leaving without a deal if necessary. However, she insisted that her Brexit blueprint was the only way to avoid a hard Irish border, and that there was a chance Brussels would move to accept it. 

"What we are proposing is challenging for the EU," May told the House of Commons. "It requires them to think again, to look beyond the positions they have taken so far and to agree a new and fair balance of rights and obligations."

Johnson: Brexit 'dream is dying'

In his resignation letter, Johnson accused the government plan of relegating the UK's status to effectively that of a colony. 

"We are now in the ludicrous position of asserting that we must accept huge amounts of precisely such EU law, without changing an iota, because it is essential for our economic health — and when we no longer have any ability to influence these laws as they are made," Johnson wrote. "In that respect we are truly headed for the status of a colony."

"The dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt."

Brussels responds to UK Cabinet resignations

Commenting on recent spate of resignations in Westminster, European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters that the "mess caused by Brexit" was a problem that wouldn't disappear alongside the political departures. 

Asked about his reaction to Johnson's resignation, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sarcastically remarked that "this clearly proves that at Chequers, there was unity in the cabinet."

Farage vows comeback if government fails on Brexit

Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), pledged late on Monday that he would return to politics if for whatever reason the UK failed to meet its March 2019 deadline for leaving the EU. 

Read more: Nigel Farage addresses Germany's far-right AfD

"My own red line is that if Article 50 is suspended or delayed, I will have no chance but to resume campaigning in all parts of the United Kingdom," Farage said during his talk show on UK's LBC radio, adding that he would even consider putting his name forward to once again becoming UKIP leader.

"I never thought I would say that again, but the government's sell-out leaves me with no choice. The latest Brexit betrayal must be reversed."

dm, jcg/aw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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