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26 May 2024

Britain's Brexit minister steps down in blow to May

Photo: AFP


British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted on Monday she was focused on negotiations with the EU after her Brexit minister and his deputy dramatically quit over plans to retain strong economic ties with the bloc even after leaving.

Downing Street swiftly appointed eurosceptic housing minister Dominic Raab to Davis's job, and said May was looking forward to working with him to deliver Britain's departure from the EU in March.

The resignation of Davis, with a stinging warning that Britain was "giving too much away too easily" in Brexit talks, was a blow to May just days after she declared a truce among her warring ministers.

All eyes are now on the next move by Brexit hardliners in her Conservative party, who hailed Davis and his deputy Steve Baker for quitting, amid speculation of a possible leadership challenge.

But the appointment of Raab, a leading Brexit supporter, suggests they are divided, while reports that another of Davis' deputies, Suella Braverman, had also quit were denied.

Davis himself said it would be "wrong" if his departure led to a full-fledged rebellion, saying that "of course" May would survive.

May will address parliament later to explain her proposal for Britain to adopt EU rules on goods after Brexit, and is also expected to speak to Conservative MPs.

The plan was agreed by cabinet ministers during marathon talks on Friday, where even those wanting a clean break from the EU fell into line.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner, criticised the proposal in private but has so far refrained from public comment.

The deal meant that for the first time since the vote for Brexit in June 2016, Britain has a detailed proposal to take to Brussels, and still hopes to agree a deal by October.

May's spokesman told reporters: "There was an agreement reached on Friday and we look forward to taking that agreement forward in negotiations."

He added: "We believe it will deliver a positive Brexit, that's what we're focused on."

The European Commission's spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the change of ministers was not a problem and it was ready to negotiate "24/7".

The EU "will continue to negotiate in goodwill, bona fide, with Prime Minister May and the UK negotiators in order to reach a deal", he said.

May spoke to Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, EU president Donald Tusk and the leaders of Ireland, Sweden and Malta over the weekend to discuss her plans, and is meeting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in London later Monday.