In a resignation letter sent to May late Sunday night UK time, Brexit Minister David Davis said it was looking “less and less likely” that the Conservative-led government would be able to deliver on its “manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.”
The departure of a key minister could lead to further departures and throw May’s government into chaos just as it enters a key period of negotiations with the EU.
The proposal, which was announced at the end of a crucial summit, seeks to preserve frictionless goods trade for the EU and avoid border checks and tariffs, most feared by manufacturing companies.
In a response to Davis, May said she was sorry he had chosen to leave the government “when we have already made so much progress towards delivering a smooth and successful Brexit.”
On Friday, May added, “we as the Cabinet agreed a comprehensive and detailed proposal which provides a precise, responsible, and credible basis for progressing our negotiations towards a new relationship between the UK and the EU after we leave in March.”
Davis said he was “unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions,” and said the national interest required someone in his position to be an “enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript.”
The EU has long maintained that countries outside the single market cannot enjoy its benefits, and exiting it could lead to a hard border in Ireland that many fear could reverse Northern Ireland’s hard won peace.
Annmarie Elijah, associate director of the Center for European Studies at Australian National University (ANU), said Davis’ resignation makes the likely survival of the Chequers deal “look very tough indeed.”
“Whatever the internal wrangling, the fact is that the UK needs to consolidate a position, and fast, in order to negotiate with the EU27.”
‘Government in chaos’
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Davis’ resignation “at such a crucial time” shows that May “has no authority left and is incapable of delivering Brexit.”
“With her government in chaos, if she clings on, it’s clear she’s more interested in hanging on for her own sake than serving the people of our country,” the Labour Party leader said on Twitter.
One of many Euroskeptics in May’s Cabinet, Davis was a high profile supporter of the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum, putting him at odds with the Prime Minister, who supported remaining within the EU.
During his time as Brexit secretary, he clashed with May repeatedly, and his resignation risks widening divisions within the Conservative Party over Europe, with all eyes on whether anyone will be nominated to replace him, or if fellow Leave campaigner and May critic Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will follow him out of the door.
Davis’ deputy, Steve Baker, and another Brexit sitminister, Suella Braverman, also resigned Sunday, according to the UK’s Press Association.
“May’s response (to Davis) shows that she is controlled by the civil service,” Farage said. “For Brexit to succeed we must get rid of this awful, duplicitous PM.”
Long before the Brexit referendum and its aftermath, the Conservative Party was split on Europe, and May has struggled to unite the warring wings under her leadership.
The government currently only has a whisker-thin majority, thanks to the support of the right-wing Northern Irish Democratic Union Party (DUP). Another general election could be called if May loses a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons.
Elijah, the ANU expert, said “uncertainty has become the new norm in British politics.”
She predicted pro-Brexit Conservatives would be willing to risk another general election if May didn’t concede to their demands, “such is their opposition to a soft Brexit.”
CNN’s Charles Riley, Darran Simon and Flora Charner contributed to this report.