Johnson Resignation Puts Brexit Plans in Chaos

The British Parliament.

CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) — Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit the British Cabinet Monday, the day after another top minister walked, objecting to Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal for a “soft Brexit” departure from the European Union, adding more turmoil to an already chaotic situation.

Great Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019 — but it’s far from clear what the terms will be.

Under May’s soft Brexit proposal, Britain would remain part of Europe’s free trade area and adhere to European standards for consumers, employment rights and the environment.

But under her soft Brexit plan, May said, Britain would end the free movement of EU citizens, stop payments to the EU and end EU jurisdiction in Britain.

The soft Brexit plan became de facto policy on Friday, when the Prime Minister got her fractious Cabinet to agree to her proposals.

It’s far from clear that the EU would accept even these soft Brexit terms.

The EU is expected to demand not just free movement of goods but also of people – something Britain has opposed. The EU also is expected to require Britain to continue payments to the EU budget.

Resigning hours before Johnson — always a bit of a wild card since he joined the government — was David Davis, Britain’s Brexit Secretary in the Cabinet.

Anti-EU Conservative ministers, who favor a hard line, now are threatening to call a vote of no-confidence in May’s government as it faces a hardening of Europe’s stance on Britain’s exit plans.

The political fight comes down to those who want a hard Brexit and those favoring a soft Brexit. May’s soft Brexit proposal is not likely to satisfy European leaders, much less the conservative members of her own government.

May’s goal is to make the separation between the United Kingdom and Europe less disruptive — an amicable divorce.

Brexit Secretary Davis resigned Sunday, two days after the Friday Cabinet deal. His resignation set off open revolt by Tory ministers who favor a more defiant break with the EU.

In an open letter to May, Davis said her Brexit policy “will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position and possibly an inescapable one” with the EU. He worried that the soft Brexit approach would “lead to further demands for concessions” from the EU.

He complained that Britain’s acceptance of a “common rulebook” for free trade in industrial goods and agricultural products with the EU would hand “control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”

In response, May wrote to Davis that the terms the Cabinet had agreed to would minimize disruptions and give the British Parliament the power to choose to accept or reject EU rules on a case-by-case basis.

EU leaders recently have complained about lack of progress in negotiations with Britain. In June it was revealed that Davis had met for only four hours this year with his EU counterpart, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Davis reportedly had been sidelined in negotiations while the prime minister’s chief EU adviser, Olly Robbins, handled day-to-day negotiations.

The fallout from Davis’ resignation was still playing out Monday morning. As British media speculated on what Boris Johnson, the divisive foreign secretary and hard-Brexit politician, would do, they found out quickly: He resigned. Several British news outlets reported Monday that Johnson compared May’s Brexit plan to “polishing a turd.”

May was expected to meet with skeptical Tory ministers Monday. Some inside her party called for a vote of no-confidence.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, blasted the Tory government on Twitter, saying May “has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit.” He said her is “in chaos.”

May’s government on Thursday is expected to lay out in more detail its proposals for Brexit in a white paper. Also this week May is expected to visit European leaders to discuss Britain’s position.

In a briefing paper on Monday, Carsten Nickel, a lead researcher at the London-based political risk analysis firm Teneo Intelligence, said the latest developments show that the chances of a disorderly Brexit remain “very real” due to the Tory government’s “inability to make the necessary choices.”

Nickel said the new proposals from May’s Cabinet were “full of contradictions” and did not represent “a real softening on Brexit.” He added that it “said little to nothing on the really difficult tradeoffs that would be part and parcel of the envisaged continuation of frictionless trade.”

Nickel projected that Britain faces three paths:

Agreeing to Europe’s terms in exchange for the benefits of open trade with Europe;

Gaining more independence from the EU but facing trade restrictions;

or leaving the EU with no deal in place.

He said Davis’ departure “reflects a refusal to recognize the humiliating tradeoffs the UK is now facing.”

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