UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit as foreign secretary today claiming in his resignation letter that the UK was headed “for the status of a colony” if Prime Minister Theresa May’s soft Brexit plans were adopted.
The leading Brexiter said that he tried to support the line agreed at Chequers on Friday but said that while the “government now has a song to sing” he could not manage to support the plan agreed.
“The trouble is that I have practiced the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat,” Johnson wrote. “Since I cannot in all conscience champion these proposals, I have sadly concluded that I must go.”
Johnson was the third minister to quit in 24 hours following the Chequers deal, although his resignation was announced by Downing Street at 3pm before the outgoing foreign secretary had a chance to complete his letter.
The prime minister hammered out a compromise with her deeply divided cabinet in an all-day meeting at Chequers on Friday but after consulting friends and allies Johnson decided he could not promote the deal.
Pressure on the foreign secretary had been mounting since fellow pro-Brexiter David Davis resigned as Brexit secretary on Sunday night, swiftly followed by his No 2 at the Department for Exiting the EU, Steve Baker.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “This afternoon, the prime minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. His replacement will be announced shortly. The prime minister thanks Boris for his work.”
After the Chequers summit, it emerged that Johnson had referred to attempts to sell May’s Brexit plan as being akin to “polishing a turd”.
As the flamboyant public face of the Vote Leave campaign, his departure will deepen the sense of crisis around May, and increase the chances that she could face a vote of no confidence.
One senior Brexiter suggested more resignations could follow if May sticks to her plan for a “common rulebook” with Brussels: “They’ll keep going, one by one, until she either junks Chequers or goes.”
Johnson’s resignation was announced on Monday afternoon as Labour MPs were being briefed about the government’s soft Brexit plan by May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington.
Lidington, a potential candidate to succeed Johnson, emerged from the meeting in Westminster apparently unaware of the latest resignation.
Johnson was due to host a summit about the western Balkans on Monday afternoon but was instead holed up in his official residence with close advisers, considering his position.
He was ridiculed last month after avoiding a vote on a third runway at Heathrow, a proposal to which he had long-held objections. The trade minister Greg Hands resigned rather than obey the Conservative whip and vote for the airport’s expansion. (Courtesy The Guardian)