Boris Johnson resigns as UK foreign secretary, citing objections to EU exit proposal

Boris Johnson resigned as the British foreign secretary on Monday, saying he could not “in all conscience champion” an agreement reached Friday by the cabinet on the U.K.’s exit from the EU. Two other U.K. members of parliament also resigned from ministerial positions on Sunday, saying they did not support the agreement. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the agreement would “honor the result of the referendum” to leave the EU.

At Friday’s meeting, called Chequers after the prime minister’s country estate where discussions took place, the cabinet approved a “vision for a relationship” with the EU that it said works “for both sides, underpinning shared prosperity and security.”

Following the agreement, David Davis resigned as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Steve Baker resigned as a minister in the same department on Sunday. Johnson, who campaigned to leave the union before the 2016 referendum, then resigned as foreign secretary, saying that the agreement did not “represent the interests” of the British people.

The U.K. and the EU have not negotiated a final agreement on aspects of the U.K.’s exit from the union, which is planned for March 29, 2019. The deadline for this agreement was set when the U.K. initiated exit proceedings under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Among the issues to be negotiated are trade agreements, financial obligations, adherence to regulatory standards for goods and customs, and residency of EU citizens in the U.K. and vice versa.

May said the Chequers agreement resulted from "productive discussions," and would give the U.K. “control” of its borders, law and money, in accordance with the referendum to leave the EU. The U.K. voted 51.89 to 48.11 percent in favor of leaving the union. May, who had initially supported the campaign to remain in the EU, took over the prime ministership in July 2016 when David Cameron, who also supported remaining in the union, resigned.

Chequers agreement

The government released a statement on the preliminary agreement, which was reached after a 12-hour meeting, that said the U.K. and EU would:

  • “Establish a free trade area for goods.”

  • Maintain a “common rulebook for all goods,” by “harmoniz[ing]” with EU rules. Parliament would have the ability to incorporate these rules into U.K. law and the ability to choose not to.

  • Establish “strong reciprocal commitments related to open and fair trade,” such as state aid and regulatory standards for environment, climate change, employment, and consumer protection.

  • Create a “joint institutional framework to provide for the consistent interpretation and application of UK-EU agreements by both parties,” through U.K. and EU courts and “with regard” to EU case law.

  • Introduce a “Facilitated Customs Arrangement” that would “remove the need for customs checks and controls” between the U.K. and EU, as if they were a “combined customs territory.”
     

The government announced on Friday it would publish a white paper with details of the proposal the following week.  

Resignations

Johnson, who had served as the Foreign Secretary since June 2016, outlined the reasons for his resignation in a letter that he posted on Twitter. In it, he said the U.K. was headed for the “status of colony,” and criticized aspects of the Chequers agreement, “above all” that involved “accepting” that the U.K. would not be able to “pass laws independently” from the EU, and “in the interests of the people of” the U.K.

In a letter accepting Johnson’s resignation, May wrote, “the agreement we reached on Friday marks the point where that is no longer the case and if you are not able to provide the support we need to secure this deal in the interests of the United Kingdom, it is right that you should step down.” May said in a statement to the House of Commons that she wanted to “recognize” Johnson’s “passion … in promoting a global Britain to the world” as the country leaves the EU.

Jeremy Hunt, who was the Health Secretary, was named as Johnson’s replacement later on Monday, and Matt Hancock was named the new Health Secretary.

Davis, who resigned as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, had been appointed to the position in 2016. He said Sunday that the “best person” to be Secretary “is someone who really believes in” the Chequers agreement, not him. Following his resignation, Dominic Raab, who had been the housing minister, was promoted to the EU secretary position. May said she wanted to “recognize” Davis’ work to “steer through parliament some of the most important legislation for generations.”

Baker, who resigned as under-secretary in the Department for Exiting the EU said he would not be able to “represent” the Chequers policy “as my own policy and therefore I can’t be in the government.” He said he had working on a White Paper for the exit from the EU that “did not accord with what was put to the cabinet” at Chequers on Friday.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said the British cabinet resignations did nothing to “solve the mess caused by Brexit,” the colloquial name for the British exit from the EU. The European Commission declined to comment to the BBC.

 

Sources: Johnson resignation, Chequers statement, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC, The Guardian

 

Writer: Leah Lim Mottishaw

Editor: Julia Berry Lopez

Lead Editor: Jens Erik Gould

Published online at The Knife Media on July 9, 2018