Britain's Brexit minister David Davis today resigned unexpectedly, citing serious policy differences with Prime Minister Theresa May's exit plan from the European Union, in a major blow to her plans to win over Eurosceptic MPs to her proposed Brexit vision.
The UK is due to leave the 28-member EU on March 29, 2019, but the two sides have yet to agree how trade will work between them afterwards.
Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said he remained "unpersuaded" about the government's negotiating position, just days after May had rallied her Cabinet to a crucial away day at her country retreat, Chequers, to thrash out a "collective" position on the issue.
In his resignation letter, Davis said it looked "less and less likely" the Conservative party would deliver on the Brexit result and the commitment to leave the EU Customs Union and Single Market dubbed by many as a "soft" Brexit.
"The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one," Davis wrote.
"I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concession," he said in the letter addressed to May.
He ended the letter by saying that May needs "an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript".
While he accused May of "giving away too much, too easily" to negotiators in Brussels, Davis insisted that he still believes she is the best person for the job of delivering Brexit.
"I like Theresa May, I think she's a good Prime Minister I won't be encouraging people to do that [replace her]. I think it's the wrong thing to do," he said, when asked if he had plans to back a growing rebellion within the Conservative party.
Davis' exit has led to intense activity among hard Brexiteer Tory MPs already unhappy with May's Brexit strategy, to raise rallying cries for a replacement.
In her own letter, May thanked Davis for his service, but said: "I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at Cabinet on Friday."
Hitting back at his claims, the Prime Minister sets out 12 points "how we will deliver on the result of the referendum and the commitments we made in our manifesto".
"At Chequers on Friday, 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," May added.
She is set to make a statement in the House of Commons later today before facing her disgruntled party MPs at a meeting of the powerful backbench 1922 Committee. A leadership contest would be triggered if 48 Conservative MPs formally submit letters, and some have already reportedly been sent to the Committee.
The key differences within the Tories remain over how far the UK should prioritise the economy by compromising on issues.
Davis' departure from the Department for Exiting the European Union, which he set up from scratch after his appointment in the wake of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, was followed by the resignation of another Brexit junior minister, Steve Baker.
The latest move is expected to put pressure on other Eurosceptic ministers, already toying with the idea of whether to resign over what is being perceived as a soft Brexit strategy by May.
This has led to growing doubts about whether the British Prime Minister, already functioning on a slim majority, has the votes to push her Brexit plan through Parliament should a deal be reached with the EU in the coming months.
In a sign of how delicately positioned the numbers are on the government's Brexit strategy, it has taken the unusual step of arranging a briefing for Opposition Labour MPs on the detail of the Brexit plan agreed on Friday.
The prospect of Brexiteer Tories joining forces with Opposition parties, despite their own differences, to throw out the deal now seem more and more likely. This would leave the entire Brexit process in chaos as the March 29 deadline for Britain's exit from the economic bloc nears.
The EU leaders have already warned that time is running out to get a Brexit deal sorted and the latest Cabinet resignation is expected to throw the process into further disarray as British officials prepare to travel to Brussels this week for the next round of talks.
The European Commission has declined to comment on the change of personnel, saying it would continue to negotiate with "good will" to try and secure an agreement on the terms of the UK's exit and future relations.
Asked how much of a problem Davis's resignation was for the future of the negotiations, a spokesman replied: "It is not for us, we are here to work".
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