May loses a min­is­ter as Brexit progress hits snags at home


Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s hopes of get­ting any Brexit deal through Par­lia­ment were dealt a blow from an un­ex­pected cor­ner on Fri­day as a proEuro­pean min­is­ter quit.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions in Brus­sels made some progress on key is­sues, but de­vel­op­ments at home un­der­scored the big­ger chal­lenge fac­ing May: how to get the deal she’s try­ing to clinch through an in­creas­ingly hos­tile Par­lia­ment.

Jo John­son, the pro-Euro­pean brother of arch-Brex­i­teer Boris quit his role as trans­port min­is­ter, and said he couldn’t vote for the ac­cord that May is ne­go­ti­at­ing. Boris John­son re­signed as for­eign sec­re­tary in July, and los­ing both broth­ers is a sign that May’s com­pro­mis­eseek­ing Brexit pol­icy risks pleas­ing no one.

Jo John­son de­scribed the han­dling of Brexit as a "fail­ure of Bri­tish state­craft" on the scale of the Suez cri­sis of 1956 — widely seen as a na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion, and said ne­go­ti­a­tions had left Bri­tain fac­ing ei­ther a deal that binds it to Euro­pean Union rules for­ever, or the catas­tro­phe of walk­ing away with­out an agree­ment. He summed it up as a choice be­tween "vas­salage and chaos," and called for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum as the only way out.

May’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team has been inch­ing to­ward a deal in re­cent weeks, but glitches keep emerg­ing. As con­ces­sions are made in Brus­sels, her Cabi­net keeps rais­ing ob­jec­tions. The North­ern Ir­ish party that props up her mi­nor­ity govern­ment also upped the ante on Fri­day, say­ing it couldn’t sup­port what she’s propos­ing.

The main fight now is about whether the guar­an­tees May is of­fer­ing to keep the Ir­ish bor­der open af­ter Brexit will end up bind­ing the U.K. to Euro­pean rules in­def­i­nitely. For Brex­it­back­ers, that’s un­ac­cept­able, as they want to break free from Euro­pean rules, re­gain sovereignty over reg­u­la­tion and strike new trade deals around the world. For the North­ern Ir­ish law­mak­ers, the risk that the province will end up be­ing treated dif­fer­ently to Bri­tain is enough to make them threaten to vote her deal down. Work in Brus­sels is ex­pected to con­tinue through the week­end, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion.

There’s been some progress, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple on both sides. More ad­vances are needed in the next week if a sum­mit to sign off on the deal is to be held this month. One of the flash­points now is a UK at­tempt to in­tro­duce a re­view clause into the di­vorce treaty to make sure that the Ir­ish is­sue doesn’t keep the UK locked in the EU’s trad­ing regime in­def­i­nitely.

EU am­bas­sadors were told on Fri­day that there’s con­ver­gence on what the re­view mech­a­nism should look like — it would be trig­gered mu­tu­ally rather than uni­lat­er­ally by Bri­tain — and also on the cus­toms ar­range­ment for the so­called Ir­ish back­stop.


UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May out­side 10 Down­ing Street in Lon­don

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