David Davis has resigned as Brexit secretary, with housing minister Dominic Raab appointed as his replacement to lead the Department for Exiting the European Union this morning.
Davis resigned late last night stating that he would be "a reluctant conscript" to the Brexit strategy agreed by the Cabinet on Friday at an all-day meeting at Chequers.
Friday’s 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". This would include "a common rulebook for all goods" with the EU, and a legal treaty to ensure "ongoing harmonisation" with European regulations.
However, Davis said in his resignation letter that the agreement would “make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real”.
“I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions," he said.
“Of course this is a complex area of judgement and it is possible that you are right and I am wrong. However, even in that event it seems to me that the national interest requires a secretary of state in my department that is an enthusiastic believer in your approach, and not just a reluctant conscript.
“While I have been grateful to you for the opportunity to serve, it is with great regret that I tender my resignation from the Cabinet with immediate effect.
Davis, who has served as DExEU secretary since the department was established to lead the UK’s exit negotiations with the European Union in July 2016, confirmed he had been unhappy with May's approach to Brexit for months – including on the sequencing of talks with Brussels, attempts to maintain an open border in Ireland and repeated delays to a white paper setting out the government's demands.
He said: "At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the customs union and the single market.
"I am afraid that I think the current trend of policy and tactics is making that look less and less likely."
Agreement of a common rule book on trading standards “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”, he claimed.
In her response May said: “I am sorry that you have chosen to leave the government when we have already made so much progress towards delivering a smooth and successful Brexit, and when we are only eight months from the date set in law when the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.”
She insisted that the Chequers agreement was “consistent with the mandate of the referendum and with the commitments we laid out in our general election manifesto” to take the UK out of the customs union and single market.
"I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at Cabinet on Friday," she said. “Parliament will decide whether or not to back the deal the government negotiates, but that deal will undoubtedly mean the returning of powers from Brussels to the United Kingdom.
“The direct effect of EU law will end when we leave the EU. Where the UK chooses to apply a common rulebook, each rule will have to be agreed by Parliament.”
Raab’s appointment was made this morning. A campaigner for Brexit during the referendum, he moves into the Cabinet from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, where he was housing minister.
In an interview with The House magazine last month, Raab said the UK must not "cower in the corner" during the Brexit negotiations.
He said the government must come up with an aspirational message on Brexit – and not allow “the din of criticism to swallow up the debate”.
He said: “Britain is a great country. We’ve got a huge amount going for us, from our commercial nous and the ability of our entrepreneurs, through to English as the lingua franca for business, for law, and all those cultural soft power aspects.
“I think we should go into these negotiations with a bit of economic self-confidence. The economy has held up and proved far more resilient than some of the naysayers suggested. We should go into it with political ambition. So, yes, mitigate the risks but we should grasp the opportunities.
“One thing I get nervous about, or anxious, is that we don’t cower in a corner so fixated on the risk that we look somehow afraid of our own shadow. Britain is a hell of a lot better than that.
“So, yes, let’s take the risks seriously. I don’t want to be cavalier about that. But let’s also grasp the opportunities. If we do that and we show a team effort, then this country will go on to bigger, better things.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that No 10 chief of staff Gavin Barwell is holding a briefing for opposition MPs this afternoon to explain to them the government's Brexit strategy.