Brexit minister quits in blow to Britain's May


LONDON (Reuters) - Brexit Secretary David Davis has resigned because he was not willing to be "a reluctant conscript" to Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to leave the European Union, delivering a blow to a British leader struggling to end divisions among her ministers.

The late-night resignation was praised by Brexit campaigners in May's Conservative Party, who felt her plan to press for the closest possible trading ties with the EU had betrayed their desire for a clean break with the bloc.

His resignation seemed to spur others to follow suit, with a source saying that a junior minister in the same department had also quit, just two days after May had held a crisis meeting with ministers to overcome the deep divisions over Brexit.

With nine months before Britain leaves and just over three before the EU says it wants a deal, May has been under intense pressure from the bloc and from many businesses to show her negotiating position.

SEE ALSO: Theresa May's cancelled Cabinet sleepover suggests she's plotting a soft Brexit

She thought she had done enough to move on with that fraught process at the meeting at her Chequers country residence. The resignations further complicate that process, and put a question mark over whether she can get the backing of parliament for her Brexit plans and whether there may be a leadership contest.

"The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one," Davis said in his resignation letter to May.

He criticized May's decision to maintain a "common rule book" with the EU, mirroring the bloc's rules and regulations, saying it would hand "control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws".

"It seems to me that the national interest requires a Secretary of State in my Department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript."

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Crisscrossing Irish border, locals crave status quo after Brexit
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Crisscrossing Irish border, locals crave status quo after Brexit
Farmer James Martin who lives in Northern Ireland but sells his milk in the Republic of Ireland, cleans the milking shed after tending to his cattle on his dairy farm near the border village of Forkhill, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. "We're less than a mile from the border, surrounded by the Republic on three sides," said Martin. "This is where you'd feel the brunt of it (a hard border)." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The change in road surface which denotes the exact border with County Armagh in Northern Ireland on the left and County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland on the right on the border village of Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Grass reflected in Lattone Lough which is split by the border seen from near Ballinacor, Northern Ireland, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A old Irish phone box stands alongside a bus stop in the border town of Glaslough, Ireland, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Billboards are viewed from inside a disused customs hut on the border in Carrickcarnon, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Farmer Gordon Crockett, whose farm straddles both Northern Ireland and Ireland holds a lamb, in Coshquin, Northern Ireland, February 21, 2018. "At the minute there is no real problem, you can cross the border as free as you want. We could cross it six or eight times a day," said Crockett. "If there was any sort of obstruction it would slow down our work every day." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Potter Brenda McGinn stands outside her studio, the former Jas Boylan shoe factory which was the main employer in the area until it shut down due to The Troubles, in Mullan, Ireland, March 16, 2018. "When I came back, this would have been somewhere you would have driven through and have been quite sad. It was a decrepit looking village," said McGinn, whose Busy Bee Ceramics is one of a handful of enterprises restoring life to the community. "Now this is a revitalised, old hidden village." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Seamus McQuaid takes packages that locals on the Irish side of the border have delivered to his business, McQuaid Auto-Parts, to save money on postal fees, near the County Fermanagh village of Newtownbutler, Northern Ireland, December 20, 2017. "I live in the south but the business is in the North," said McQaid. "I wholesale into the Republic of Ireland so if there's duty, I'll have to set up a company 200 yards up the road to sell to my customers. I'll have to bring the same product in through Dublin instead of Belfast." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A bus-stop and red post box stand in the border town of Jonesborough, Northern Ireland, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The sun is reflected in Lough Foyle which is part of the Northern Ireland border near Londonderry, Northern Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A defaced 'Welcome to Northern Ireland' sign stands on the border in Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An abandoned shop is seen in Mullan, Ireland, March 16, 2018. The building was home to four families who left during The Troubles. The town was largely abandoned after the hard border was put in place during the conflict. Mullan has seen some regeneration in recent years, but faces an uncertain future with Brexit on the horizon. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A traffic cone stands in a field on the border between County Donegal and County Londonderry near Lenamore, Northern Ireland, February 1, 2018. SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The border seen through tree branches in Kiltyclogher, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mervyn Johnson who owns a garage poses for a photograph in the border town of Pettigo, Northern Ireland, February 20, 2018. "I've been here since 1956, it was a bit of a problem for a few years. My premises has been blown up about six or seven times, we just kept building and starting again" Johnson said laughing. "We just got used to it (the hard border) really but now that it's gone, we wouldn't like it back again". REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Alice Mullen from Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland does her shopping at a former customs post on the border in Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. "I'd be very worried if it was a hard border, I remember when people were divided. I would be very afraid of the threat to the peace process, it was a dreadful time to live through. Even to go to mass on a Sunday, you'd have to go through checkpoints. It is terribly stressful," said Mullen. "All those barricades and boundaries were pulled down. I see it as a huge big exercise of trust and I do believe everyone breathed a sigh of relief." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
David McClintock from Donegal sits in the 'Border Cafe' in the border village of Muff, Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Stephen Burns drinks in a pub on the Northern Ireland side of Belleek, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man fills jerry cans with Kerosene on the border village of Middletown, Northern Ireland, December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A disused Great Northern Railway line and station that was for customs and excise on the border town of Glenfarne, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Union Flag colours painted on kerbstones and bus-stops along the border village of Newbuildings, Northern Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A bull stands in a field with a disused Customs Facilitation Office in the background on the border in Carrickcarnon, Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A road which crosses the border from County Donegal in Ireland to County Londonderry in Northern Ireland, is seen from near the border village of Lenamore, Ireland, February 1, 2018. There are no markings apart from the change in roadsigns. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An old British postbox, painted green, stands at a disused railway station and Great Northern railway line that was for Customs and Excise on the border town of Glenfarne, Ireland, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Zig-zag steps lead up to the prehistoric stone fort of Grianan of Aileach where you can view the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, seen from near the border village of Speenogue, Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
John Murphy flies the European flag outside his home near the border village of Forkhill, Northern Ireland, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE BORDER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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May replied to his letter to say she did not agree "with your characterization of the policy we agreed at cabinet on Friday". She thanked him for his work.

In another blow, a government source said that Steve Baker, a minister who worked for Davis and who while in government gave many Brexit campaigners faith in the process, had also resigned. Another minister who works alongside them could also follow them to the door, party sources said.

PEACE DEAL?

After the hours-long meeting at Chequers, May seemed to have persuaded the most vocal Brexit campaigners in the cabinet, including Davis, to back her plan to press for "a free trade area for goods" with the EU and maintain close trade ties.

It won the backing of one other high-profile Brexit campaigner. Michael Gove, May's environment minister, said on Sunday that while the agreed negotiating stance was not perfect, he believed it delivered on handing back control to Britain.

But Davis had expressed his unease over a compromise plan right up until the eve of the meeting, writing a letter to May describing her proposal to ease trade and give Britain more freedom to set tariffs as "unworkable".

Davis has form on resigning if he disagrees with his party. In 2008, when the Conservatives were not in government, Davis quit as a member of parliament to raise the profile of a debate over what saw as the erosion of civil liberties.

Shortly afterwards he stood as the Conservative candidate and was re-elected.

Other Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers have criticized the Chequers "peace deal", saying that May's plans offered a Brexit in name only, a betrayal of what they saw as her promise for a clean break with the EU.

Their complaints raise a question mark over whether May can win backing in parliament for her plans if any deal with the EU is agreed later this year, and some suggest several of them could try to trigger a leadership contest against her.

"Will others ... be able to sell this to parliament?" asked one senior Conservative member. "I assume he has resigned to speak."

"Fantastic news. Well done David Davis for having the principal and guts to resign," Brexit campaigner and Conservative lawmaker Andrea Jenkyns said on Twitter.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of a group of Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party, said Davis' resignation proved that their concerns were well-founded.

"It is crucially important as it shows how well founded concerns over the Chequers conclusions are," he told Reuters. "If the Brexit Secretary could not support them they cannot genuinely be delivering Brexit."

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and William James; Editing by James Dalgleish)

 

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