UNITED NATIONS – Theresa May’s tenuous hold on power in the U.K. was cast in sharp relief this week amid a wave of high-level resignations prompted by her increasingly unpopular handling of the Brexit process.
Chief among those cabinet departures are Britain’s top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and the man leading negotiations to exit the European Union, Brexit Secretary David Davis.
In a further hit to May’s Conservative Party, two senior party leaders submitted their resignations on Tuesday, and both critiqued May’s oversight of the Brexit process in public letters.
Johnson’s exit received the most media attention, as the headline-seeking politician hired a photographer to document the moment he put pen to paper and tenured his resignation.
With less than a year to go until Brexit kicks into effect, May’s Conservative party faces mounting internal divides over how to approach negotiations with the E.U. and has only released broad outlines of the intended terms of its departure.
One key issue concerns how to govern the border separating U.K.-controlled Northern Ireland and E.U. member Ireland. May previously promised that no physical border would separate the territories, leaving policymakers in a pickle over whether to spend billions to create a seamless digital border or adapt U.K. customs laws to meet E.U. standards as a long-term solution was reached.
Her decision to choose a third option and potentially subject the U.K. to certain E.U. trade rules for years to come enraged Conservative politicians desiring of a more forceful break.
I am proud to have served as Foreign Secretary. It is with sadness that I step down: here is my letter explaining why. pic.twitter.com/NZXzUZCjdF
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 9, 2018
In his letter to May, Johnson described his initial excitement that Brexit would give Britain a greater say over its affairs as it cast off the burdens of E.U. bureaucracy.
But his enthusiasm faded over the last year as the May government had numerous Brexit ideas slapped down by European officials and subsequently watered down its once-sweeping goals for a “hard” break from the E.U.
“That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,” Johnson wrote of the government’s new approach.
“We have postponed crucial decisions – including the preparations for no deal, as I argued in my letter to you of last November – with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system.”
May replied to Johnson in a letter of her own, saying she was “sorry and a little surprised” over his departure. But she was quick to action, appointing the country’s health secretary as Johnson’s replacement and chairing a meeting of her new cabinet Tuesday afternoon.
Despite speculation that the cabinet shakeup could see May removed from office in a no-confidence vote, that outcome appears increasingly unlikely after hard-line pro-Brexit Conservatives failed to sway fellow party members to challenge her leadership in a key meeting Monday.
The latest political intrigue in London comes just two days before President Donald Trump arrives in the country for a whirlwind day of meetings on Thursday.
Trump, who predicted Tuesday morning that his meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin would likely be the “easiest” of his overseas visit, offered few words of support for May, describing the U.K. as beset by “turmoil” and May’s future in the hands of the British people.