LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May dug in her heels Monday after the resignation of two top government ministers over Brexit negotiations whipped up a storm that threatened to topple her fragile minority government
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit with a resignation letter accusing May of flying “white flags” of surrender in negotiations with the European Union. He said “the Brexit dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt.”
Johnson followed Brexit Secretary David Davis out the door as a hard-won government consensus on future trade ties with the bloc disintegrated less than three days after it was forged, and nine months before Britain is due to leave the EU.
Davis resigned late Sunday, saying May’s plan to maintain close trade and regulatory ties with the EU gave “too much away, too easily.”
If Davis’s resignation rattled May, Johnson’s shook the foundations of her government. The tousle-headed blond Johnson is one of Britain’s best-known politicians, and one of the most prominent advocates for Brexit. Some euroskeptic lawmakers dream of replacing May with a staunch Brexiteer such as Johnson, a populist, polarizing figure who has never made a secret of his ambition to be prime minister.
“It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them,” Johnson wrote in a letter that underscored his credentials as a champion of full-speed Brexit.
“The government now has a song to sing,” he said. “The trouble is that I have practiced the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat.”
With Britain due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29, 2019, EU officials have warned Britain repeatedly that time is running out to seal a deal spelling out the terms of the divorce and a post-split relationship.
May’s plan seeks to keep the U.K. and the EU in a free-trade zone for goods, and commits Britain to maintaining the same rules as the bloc for goods and agricultural products.
Rebuffing claims that her proposals make too many concessions to the EU, May said her “smooth and orderly Brexit” would leave Britain free to make its own laws and trade deals.
The resignations came just days after May announced Friday that she had finally united her quarrelsome government behind a plan for a divorce deal with the EU.