May conducts Cabinet reshuffle after Boris Johnson quits Foreign Office over Brexit

Written by Nicholas Mairs, Emilio Casalicchio and Matt Foster on 10 July 2018 in News
News

Second Cabinet resignation in two days leads to questions over government’s Brexit approach only days after supposed agreement

Photo: PA

Theresa May has promoted health secretary Jeremy Hunt to the Foreign Office after the resignation of Boris Johnson over the government’s Brexit plan.

Johnson resigned yesterday less than 24 hours after Brexit secretary David Davis stood down along with his deputy, Steve Baker.

In his resignation letter, the former foreign secretary said the Brexit "dream is dying" unless the prime minister changes course from the government’s Brexit strategy, which was only agreed by the Cabinet on Friday at an all-day meeting at Chequers.


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This agreement said that a new "free trade area" would be established between Britain and the EU to "avoid friction at the border, protect jobs and livelihoods, and ensure both sides meet their commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland". It would include "a common rulebook for all goods" with the EU, and a legal treaty to ensure "ongoing harmonisation" with European regulations.

Johnson said this amounted to "sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them".

The UK was now in the "ludicrous position of asserting that we must accept huge amounts" of EU law "without changing an iota" and without being able to influence the rules, he said.

“In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony – and many will struggle to see the economic of political advantages of that particular arrangement," he said.

He added: “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward looking global economy.

"That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt."

The government had “postponed crucial decisions… 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”, he added.

Responding to the announcement, a Downing Street spokesman said: "This afternoon, the prime minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. His replacement will be announced shortly. The prime minister thanks Boris for his work."

Yesterday evening, Downing Street announced that Hunt would move to the Foreign Office, with Matthew Hancock moving from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to replace Hunt at the Department of Health and Social Care.

Attorney general Jeremy Wright replaced Hancock as the culture secretary, and backbencher Geoffrey Cox become the new attorney general.

Responding to Johnson’s resignation, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office permanent secretary Lord Peter Ricketts said that Johnson’s legacy would be “a disappointing one, because as foreign secretary, you’ve got to earn the trust and respect of colleagues, you’ve got to master the detail and put the work in to make a difference on big issues, and I’m afraid Boris Johnson never really found the tone. [He] never found the tone, never found that application and hasn’t really left a legacy on the major issues of the day.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight, Ricketts added that Hunt will find there’s a really first class professional machine in the Foreign Office [and] all our embassies around the world.

“If given leadership and given clear objectives as with the aftermath of the Skripal poisoning they can deliver for Britain, and they want to deliver for Britain.

"So the foreign secretary has to choose what issues are they going to make Britain’s and where we can make a difference.”

A senior official in the British overseas territory of Anguilla yesterday described Johnson as the "the worst foreign secretary we’ve ever had".

Johnson paid a visit to the island last year in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which ravaged the UK's overseas territories, devastating infrastructure and claiming the life of one Anguilla resident.

John McKendrick, the attorney general of Anguilla, indicated Johnson would not be missed. He tweeted: "Meeting the worst foreign secretary we’ve ever had amongst the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Anguilla. Disinterested and out of his depth he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance."

McKendrick, who unsuccessfully stood for Labour in Scotland at the 2010 election, went on to defend his tirade as he came under fire from some social media users.

He hit back: "I’ll let you work on 'tone' when you’ve lived without running water or power for 3 months without much FCO concern. And for the people of Anguilla it was worse."

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Nicholas Mairs, Emilio Casalicchio and Matt Foster
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Nicholas Mairs, Emilio Casalicchio and Matt Foster report for Politics Home, where a version of this story first appeared

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