Britain and the European Union insisted Monday that their divorce negotiations remain on track after the resignation of the U.K.'s top Brexit official shook Prime Minister Theresa May’s fragile grip on power.
May appointed staunchly pro-Brexit lawmaker Dominic Raab as the country’s new Brexit secretary hours after the surprise resignation of his predecessor, David Davis, late Sunday night.
Davis said he could not support May’s plan to maintain close trade and regulatory ties with the EU — a proposal agreed by the Cabinet after a marathon meeting Friday. Steve Baker, a junior Brexit minister also resigned.
The resignations dealt yet another blow to the beleaguered leader, just two days after she announced she had finally united her quarrelsome government behind her plan for a divorce deal with the EU.
Less than nine months remain until Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019, and the EU has warned Britain repeatedly that time is running out to seal a divorce deal.
Britain and the EU hope to reach broad agreement by October so that EU national parliaments can ratify a deal before Britain leaves. That timetable looks increasingly optimistic, but European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU was “available 24/7.”
Schinas said the bloc “will continue to negotiate in goodwill, bona fide, with Prime Minister Theresa May and the U.K. government negotiators in order to reach a deal.”
May’s official spokesman, James Slack, said Britain wanted to “move forward at pace” in the negotiations.
“There is now a new secretary of state and we look forward to moving on,” he said.
During a 12-hour meeting on Friday, May’s fractious Cabinet — including Davis — finally agreed on a plan for future trade ties with the EU.
The plan seeks to keep Britain and the EU in a free-trade zone for goods, and commits Britain to maintaining the same rules as the bloc for goods and agricultural products.
Some Brexit-supporting lawmakers are angry at the proposals, saying they will keep Britain tethered to the bloc and unable to change its rules to strike new trade deals around the world.
In his resignation letter, Davis said the “‘common rule book’ policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”