Boris Johnson becomes latest high-profile departure from Theresa May Cabinet: PM likely to face leadership contest

The initial euphoria over British prime minister Theresa May's cabinet reaching a "collective" agreement for her plans to leave the European Union seems to have been shortlived as the government grapples with departures. The developments have triggered speculation that May could face an imminent leadership contest.

May is expected to meet the new cabinet on Tuesday. She addressed Conservative MPs for an hour on Monday and issued a warning that divided parties lose elections. She also told her party that "to lead is to decide".

Britain's prime minister Theresa May gives statement in the Parliament. AP

Britain's prime minister Theresa May gives statement in the Parliament. AP

A minister quoted the prime minister as saying, "If we don't pull together, we risk the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister," The Guardian reported. May was forced to reshuffle her cabinet after Boris Johnson put in his papers on Monday.

Johnson resigned as the foreign minister, warning that Britain will end up like a colony to the European Union after the government announced plans for a close trading relationship with the bloc after Brexit next year. He said "the Brexit dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt "

May responded that she was "sorry and a little surprised" by his decision but said she accepted it was necessary "if you are not able to provide the support we need to secure this deal in the interests of the United Kingdom."

Johnson was replaced by Jeremy Hunt, a long-serving health minister, and his appointment and could alter the Brexit balance of May's top ministerial team. While Johnson was one of the most high-profile Brexit campaigners, Hunt backed 'Remain' during the 2016 referendum campaign. Culture secretary Matt Hancock has replaces Hunt as health secretary.

Soon after his appointment, Hunt said he would be standing "four square" behind the prime minister "so that we can get through an agreement with the European Union based on what was agreed by the Cabinet last week at Chequers."

"This is a time when the world is looking at us as a country, wondering what type of country we are going to be in a post-Brexit world. What I want to say to them is Britain is going to be a dependable ally, a country that stands up for the values that matter to the people of this country, and will be a strong confident voice in the world," BBC quoted him as saying.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright was appointed to replace Hancock as the culture secretary, with Geoffrey Cox becoming the new attorney general.

David Davis resigns

Johnson's dramatic resignation followed those of David Davis and his deputy Steve Baker over May's plans to keep Britain economically close to the bloc. Davis told May in a letter that the government's proposals for close trade and customs ties "will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one."

Davis' resignation undermined May's already fragile government, which has lost several ministers in 2017 over sexual misconduct allegations and other scandals. Davis was a strong pro-Brexit voice in a Cabinet divided between supporters of a clean break with the bloc and those who want to keep close ties with Britain's biggest trading partner.

May replaced Davis by appointing Dominic Raab as the new Brexit Secretary. "The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of Dominic Raab MP as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union," a statement from May’s office said.

There were also junior ministerial resignations as well, according to The Guardian. Kat Malthouse, a work and pensions minister, replaced Dominic Raab as housing minister and Chris Heaton-Harris became a junior minister at the Brexit department, replacing Steve Baker.

Nigel Farage to return?

Nigel farage has threatened to return as the leader of the UKIP unless Brexit is "put back on track" and he also accused May of betraying the people. Farage, who quit as leader following the 2016 European Union referendum result, called on Conservative MPs to hold a vote of no confidence over the prime minister.

"I never thought I would say that again, but the government's sell-out leaves me with no choice. The latest Brexit betrayal must be reversed," he was quoted as saying by The Independent.

May faces mounting criticism 

The leader of Britain's Opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, accused May of being incapable of negotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union given the deep splits among her own ministers over her plans.

"How can anyone have faith in the prime minister getting a good deal with 27 European Union governments when she can't even broker a deal within her own Cabinet?" he asked. Corbyn, addressing May in parliament, said her government should be ended if it was incapable of governing.

May was asked by an Opposition lawmaker Monday whether she would contest a vote of confidence if one came rather than resign. "Nice try," she said while adding, "But I'm getting on with delivering what the British people want." A leadership challenge to her can be sparked if 48 of her lawmakers write to the Conservative's influential 1922 Committee.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jul 10, 2018 13:57:23 IST

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