British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed Jeremy Hunt as the new Foreign Secretary, following Boris Johnson’s resignation from the job amid deep divisions over Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) or Brexit.
Hunt, who served as the health secretary, was assigned to his new role late on Monday hours after Johnson handed in his resignation letter to May.
Johnson’s departure came a day after David Davis, the British minister in charge of Brexit negotiations, also stepped down in protest of May’s new Brexit strategy that pointed to a more “business-friendly” deal with the EU.
Huge honour to be appointed Foreign Secretary at this critical moment in our country’s history. Time to back our PM to get a great Brexit deal – it’s now or never…
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 9, 2018
May is holding a meeting of her new-look cabinet on Tuesday, following a forced reshuffle in the aftermath of the resignations.
“Top-level cabinet resignations usually spell trouble for a government and Boris Johnson’s might well have led to a leadeship challenge, but May appears to have emerged unscathed from a meeting of her party, for now,” said Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hill, reporting from London.
“She may yet be around to continue negotiations with the EU, even if the European bloc has had another demonstration of just how vulnerable she is,” he added.
Johnson, a polarising figure and a former mayor of London, was a leading spokesperson for the campaign calling for Britain’s departure from the EU in advance of a June 2016 referendum.
He has always supported a so-called “hard Brexit”, which supports relinquishing access to the bloc’s single market in exchange for full border control.
In his resignation letter, Johnson wrote: “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently”, adding “that dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt”.
I am proud to have served as Foreign Secretary. It is with sadness that I step down: here is my letter explaining why. pic.twitter.com/NZXzUZCjdF
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 9, 2018
Earlier on Monday, the prime minister’s office also announced the appointment of Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary, replacing Davis.
The two resignations have left May badly exposed and raised questions over whether she will stand firm in her commitment to pursuing a “business-friendly” Brexit, or will be faced with more resignations and calls to quit herself.
Julien Hoez, a policy analyst with Vocal Europe, an online news service, believes the prime minister is going to be safe from a leadership challenge.
“My personal opinion is that she has strengthened herself quite a bit,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview from London. “So, if we look at her recent appointments it has effectively stacked the cabinet in her favour.”
“It takes 48 Conservative members out of a total of 60 to trigger a leadership challenge; however, we are unlikely to see the challenge happen because there is not yet the belief that they have the numbers to effectively oust Theresa May,” Hoez added.
May, the leader of the Conservative party, believed she had secured a hard-won agreement with her deeply divided cabinet of ministers on Friday to keep the closest possible trading ties with the EU.
But it soon began to unravel, when Davis resigned late on Sunday and launched a no-holds-barred attack on her plan, calling it “dangerous” and one which would give “too much away, too easily” to EU negotiators, who would simply ask for more.
On Monday, May defended Friday’s deal, which would allow for some ties between Britain and the EU.
“This is the Brexit that is in our national interest. It is the Brexit that will deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” May told parliament.
“It is the right Brexit deal for the people.”
May has been trying for months to solve internal issues within the ruling Conservatives about which course to take before Brexit takes effect on March 29, 2019.
Two years ago, the UK shocked the world by narrowly voting to withdraw from the EU after a fevered referendum campaign that sharpened regional divisions and exposed deep distrust between voters and the political establishment.