Ministers rally around May at first meeting of new cabinet
Vice-chairs of Conservative Party resign over opposition to prime minister’s Brexit policy
British prime minister Theresa May moved to reassert her authority on Tuesday after two top cabinet members quit and launched broadsides against her Brexit plans, winning support from many of her ministers including a leading eurosceptic.
Ms May said she had chaired a “productive” meeting of her government, unswayed by the resignations of foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit negotiator David Davis that rocked the government on Monday.
Among those rallying around the prime minister was environment minister Michael Gove - a prominent campaigner to exit the European Union alongside Johnson for the 2016 referendum - who said he would not follow suit by resigning.
However, the vice-chairs of the Conservative Party, MPs Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield, resigned their posts on Tuesday because of their opposition to Ms May’s current policy on Brexit.
“I fully understand and appreciate the great many challenges you face in delivering on Brexit, not least the balancing act in the House of Commons that constrains your freedom,” Mr Bradley wrote in his resignation later.
“However I have come to the conclusion that I cannot in good faith be a spokesman for the party or for Government on this issue, and I cannot with any sincerity defend this course to my electorate, 71 per cent of whom voted to leave the European Union.”
With less than nine months until Britain is due to leave the bloc, Ms May is sticking to her plan for a “business friendly” Brexit.
She looks set on facing down a rebellion in her Conservative Party, where hardline Brexit supporters are livid over her plans to negotiate “a free trade area for goods” with the EU. One described accepting EU rules as “the ultimate betrayal”.
Above a picture of her cabinet, including her new foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and Brexit minister Dominic Raab after a mini-reshuffle late on Monday, Ms May wrote on her twitter feed: “Productive Cabinet meeting this morning - looking ahead to a busy week.”
Her spokesman said she had welcomed the new members of her cabinet and they had discussed the publication of a white paper policy document on Britain’s future ties with the EU and stepping up preparations for any no-deal outcome to the negotiations with Brussels.
Other ministers described the meeting as “very good”.
“I think it is right that the cabinet backs the prime minister and speaks with one voice and if people don’t do that then they have to go,” justice secretary David Gauke told BBC radio.
Ms May must now move quickly to try to win the EU’s support for her Brexit proposal to unblock talks. These have all but stalled because of her reticence of show her cards until now for fear of angering one of the two main factions of her party.
German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in London later on Tuesday for a meeting with May and other leaders to discuss the Western Balkans.
Stilled the waters
The British leader may have stilled the waters over a possible leadership contest, but some Conservative Brexit supporters are still incensed over what they see as her decision to break her promise for a clean break with the EU.
“It is the ultimate betrayal of our democracy and people’s belief in it. It’s not even an accidental betrayal, it was planned and plotted well in advance,” said Conservative politician Andrew Bridgen.
“Never have so many campaigned for so long and so hard for so little,” he said.
But while many Brexit campaigners were still hoping for a vote of confidence to oust Ms May, it is unlikely that they have the numbers. They also are in a minority in parliament to try to change any deal that is agreed with the EU.
At a meeting with Conservative politicians on Monday, she was cheered and applauded by many, having warned them that internal squabbling could pave the way for socialist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to take power instead.
Ms May’s proposals for a future EU relationship after Britain departs from the bloc next March had taken two years of internal government wrangling to agree. But within 48 hours Davis had quit and Johnson followed. The Daily Telegraph newspaper ran a photograph on Tuesday of him, pen poised, resigning as foreign minister. Three junior ministers also quit their posts.
“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope,” Mr Johnson said in a scathing resignation letter that was echoed in headlines in a number of Britain’s national newspapers. “That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”
Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has said the UK is in turmoil and suggested that his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin would be the easiest of his trip to Europe to see Nato leaders and Ms May.
Speaking as he boarded Marine One, Mr Trump said: “It’s going to be an interesting time in the UK and an interesting time at Nato. We will work it out and all countries will be happy.
“So I have Nato, I have the UK — that’s a situation with turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of all.”
On his trip to Europe, he added: “It’s going to be an interesting time in the UK and an interesting time at Nato. We will work it out and all countries will be happy.
“We do have a lot of allies. But we cannot be taken advantage of. We’re being taken advantage of by the European Union. We spend 75 per cent on Nato and frankly, it helps them more than it helps us.”–Reuters/Press Association