Theresa May future in jeopardy as David Davis quits over Prime Minister's handling of Brexit

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

 

David Davis has thrown the PM’s leadership into crisis (AFP)
  • David Davis quits as Brexit Secretary, plunging Theresa May’s premiership plunged into crisis
  • Davis says PM has created ‘weak negotiating position’ amid Brexiteer backlash
  • Dominic Raab confirmed as new Brexit Secretary
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg says PM’s plans in tatters – but that she should stay in job
  • May due to make speech in House of Commons later on Monday
  • Pound reacts steadily, even rising slightly in early morning trading

Theresa May’s leadership has been plunged into crisis by the shock resignation of David Davis amid a major Brexiteer backlash.

The Prime Minister has appointed Dominic Raab her new Brexit Secretary as she tries to quell the storm sparked by the release of her Brexit negotiating plan on Friday that has outraged pro-Leave factions in her party.

Davis dramatically quit on Sunday night in protest at the Prime Minister’s approach, saying she had left the UK in a ‘weak negotiating position’.

Mr Davis dealt a further devastating critique of the PM on Monday morning and warned the Government has gone further than it should have in the negotiations, saying it was a “dangerous strategy”.

He told the BBC the UK is giving “too much away, too easily” in the Brexit talks, but backed Mrs May to remain Prime Minister.

Dominic Raab this morning after being announced as Brexit Secretary (Getty)

Asked if she could survive, he replied: “Oh yes, of course.”

Mr Davis’ departure – just 48 hours after being part of the Cabinet that agreed to Mrs May’s plans – also triggered the resignation of departmental ally Steve Baker.

All eyes are now on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who could trigger Mrs May’s downfall if he also decided to follow Mr Davis out of the Government.

Mr Johnson had backed the proposals at Chequers, despite reportedly claiming during the meeting that defending the plan was like ‘polishing a turd’.

What happens next?

The Chequers Brexit summit on Friday, which outlines the UK’s negotiating position, was meant to unify a warring Cabinet split between Leavers and Remainers.

But, instead, it sparked the resignation of Mr Davis, and the PM now faces a major challenge to keep Tory MPs angered at her plans for a soft Brexit at bay.

She has two defining moments ahead of her in the next few hours.

First, she is expected to use a Commons statement to tell MPs that the strategy agreed on at Chequers is the “right Brexit” for Britain.

And later this evening, she faces a stormy meeting with Tory MPs and peers in Parliament as she tries to keep her fragile administration together.

Read more: How Theresa May could be removed as Tory leader

15 per cent of Tory MPs would need to trigger a leadership challenge

Jacob Rees-Mogg, an ardent critic of the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, said on Monday he had not submitted a letter of no confidence and that he expected Mrs May to stay.

“I think the odds are that she will be Prime Minister in March next year.”

However, he insisted her plans for a soft Brexit now lay in tatters.

However, some Tory MPs have reportedly started sharing a draft letter saying the PM has capitulated to Brussels and “the time has come for a new leader”.

In order for a leadership contest to be sparked, 48 Tory MPs would need to write a letter of no confidence in Mrs May.

 

PM’s depleted Cabinet

Mrs May had hoped that the Cabinet agreement secured on Friday at Chequers would have helped her deliver the ‘right Brexit’ for the UK, with an offer to Brussels to share a ‘common rulebook’ on goods and form a new UK-EU free trade area.

Who is Dominic Raab?

The appointment of Mr Raab is a smart move by Mrs May. He is broadly well-liked and trusted by Tory MPs and, though he is an ardent Brexiteer, he has softer edges and Remainer MPs are likely to think they can work with him.

He has previously said he is “relaxed” about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

But Mr Raab has also spoken out publicly about the need to unify behind the Prime Minister.

In June, asked if there was a need for more Cabinet discipline, he said: “Yes,” adding: “I think everyone needs to get behind the Prime Minister.”

Appealing for unity, he added: “We need to show as a Government and also as a country that we’re bigger than the sum of our parts, and I think we’ll get that legislation (EU (Withdrawal) Bill) through, I’m reasonably confident that we will do that, but we need to work together from backbenchers right the way through to the top team.”

Weak negotiating position’

In his devastating 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’.

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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.

He added: ‘I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.’

All eyes are on Boris Johnson to see if he will also quit the Government (Rex)

The responsibility for leading the negotiations should now go to an ‘enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript’, he said.

In her reply to Mr Davis late on Sunday, 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.’

Mr Davis’s exit may embolden Brexiteer backbench MPs with concerns about Mrs May’s leadership.

The Prime Minister’s grip on her leadership has been weakened by the resignation (Rex)

EU responds calmly

The Commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the resignation of Mr Davis would not hit the talks.

Asked if it was a problem, he replied: “Not for us. We are here to work.”

However, one EU diplomat described the exit of Davis and Baker as like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

“Davis’ resignation will be framed as not taking responsibility for a soft Brexit but looks more like not taking responsibility at all”, the diplomat said.

“It is starting to look like the flight of the Brexiteers.

“They landed your country in a mess and now they’re leaving for higher ground.

“Rats and sinking ships – that age old tale.”

Brexiteer backlash

Arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the powerful European Research Group (ERG) faction within the Tory ranks, said his resignation should force Mrs May to reconsider her approach.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘These proposals will have to come to the House of Commons in legislation and the question is ‘will they command support from Conservative MPs?’

‘And I think without David Davis there, without his imprimatur, it will be very difficult for them to get the support of Conservative MPs and therefore the Prime Minister would be well advised to reconsider them.’

Fellow Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone welcomed Mr Davis’s resignation, saying it was ‘a principled and brave decision’, while Andrea Jenkyns said Mr Davis’s departure was ‘fantastic news’ and hailed Mr Baker as ‘another courageous and principled MP’.

Tory Bernard Jenkin lashed out at ministers for their ‘submission’ to the EU.

He told the Today programme: ‘The establishment and the government is in the grip of Remainers. And they seem to refuse to accept the EU referendum. They have deliberately extended the uncertainty for as long as possible and that is now hitting investment.

‘They have never pushed back on any of the guidelines that the EU has published. So there has not really been any negotiation, there’s only been submission.

‘What we have here is the elected politicians trying to overturn the result of the referendum with the support of the European Union.’

He added: ‘If the Prime Minister thinks she has consent and support from every member of her cabinet she is deluding herself, as we have just seen.

‘I fear for our country and I fear for this party.’

 

All the key events before Brexit in 2019 (PA)

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told the Press Association: ‘I can’t support the offer which emerged at Chequers – I think it’s a breach of the red lines, in fact the offer is so poor that I couldn’t support it even if the EU were paying us for it.’

Mrs May is expected to use a Commons statement to tell MPs that the strategy agreed on at Chequers is the ‘right Brexit’ for Britain.

Mr Davis had come close to resigning before, but Mrs May must have hoped the danger of Cabinet resignations had passed after Friday’s deal at her official country retreat.

Brexiteer Cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted the plan was not everything he had hoped for, but he was a ‘realist’ and the Prime Minister’s lack of a Commons majority meant the ‘parliamentary arithmetic’ was a factor in deciding what could be adopted.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister ‘has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit’.

He added: ‘With her Government in chaos, if she clings on, it’s clear she’s more interested in hanging on for her own sake than serving the people of our country.’