Boris Johnson resigned on Monday from the U.K. government, following David Davis’ footprints, presenting a blow to Theresa May’s controversial new Brexit plan just days after she received the formal backing for it off of her Cabinet.
The double-resignation raises the prospect of an imminent challenge to May’s leadership. Just 48 letters of no confidence from Conservative MPs are needed to trigger a vote on her leadership among backbench Tory MPs. Were she to lose a vote, she will have to resign as Conservative Party leader, triggering a second leadership election since the Brexit referendum in 2016. May’s spokesman on Monday denied a leadership challenge is imminent, but confirmed the prime minister would fight one should it arise.
During the all day meeting of the Cabinet at Chequers to discuss the proposals Friday, Johnson allegedly described the plan as “a big turd.”
The prime minister faced a serious backlash from Brexit-backing Conservative MPs, who questioned how the U.K. would be able to operate an independent trade policy under her Brexit plan. Conservative MP Peter Bone said his local activists had felt “disappointed” and “betrayed” by the outcome of the Chequers summit, and had refused to campaign.
May responded: “This is not a betrayal.”
On Sunday night, Davis became the first Cabinet minister to resign, accusing the prime minister of leaving the U.K. at the mercy of further demands for concessions from the EU and breaking key negotiating pledges.
Davis insisted his disagreement with the prime minister was over strategy, but said he continues to support May. He said “It seems to me we’re giving too much away, too easily, and that’s a dangerous strategy. I like Theresa May, I think she is a good prime minister. We have a difference over the strategy.”
Davis, who was speaking live on air as Johnson’s resignation was announced, said his colleague’s departure is a matter of “regret” and insisted that he had not coordinated his departure with the former foreign secretary.
“I had to resign because this was central to my job,” he said “I don’t think it is central to the job of foreign secretary.”
The former Brexit secretary said he had told some fellow ministers on Sunday evening of his intention to resign but that had merely been to “keep them informed,” and flatly denied that he and Johnson had acted in concert.
He said the resignations were not terminal for May’s premiership, predicting that the prime minister would win a vote of confidence in her leadership if Conservative MPs forced a ballot.
May now needs the backing of her wider party in two set-piece events that could hold the key to her future, first in a statement to the House of Commons Monday afternoon before a behind-closed-doors meeting of Conservative MPs later on.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the Brexit-backing European Research Group of Tory MPs, wrote in the Telegraph Monday that he would vote against the prime minister’s proposed new offer to Brussels.
Rees-Mogg appeared to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister to drop her new Brexit policy or risk a leadership challenge. “I don’t think a ‘no-confidence vote’ is immediately in the offing. I think what the prime minister needs to do is give up on the Chequers proposals, which David Davis in his resignation letter has pointed out don’t deliver Brexit,” he told LBC radio on Monday.
Grant Shapps, former Conservative Party chairman, said he hopes there would not be a leadership election now because there is “physically not the time” for one now with negotiations ongoing.
“In a sense Boris couldn’t be true to himself I suppose and stay, but I think the truth is this country still absolutely needs to get to a deal or if there is going to be a no deal we need to get there, but there is no time to do anything else in the meantime.”