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UK Tory party hit by new round of Brexit turmoil

By Earle Gale in London | | Updated: 2018-07-11 01:01
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, July 10, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Theresa May defiant after resignations of senior euroskeptic cabinet ministers

The relationship between China and the United Kingdom is developing well and will not be impacted by turbulence in Britain’s domestic political situation, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday after a day of resignations and acrimony in the British Parliament.

Hua said Beijing will continue to value its ties with London and work with the UK to enhance them.

Her comments followed the resignations on Sunday night and on Monday of the UK’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, and its chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, as well as some junior figures. They walked off the job because they disagreed with Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision of Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union following their March 2019 separation.

Johnson and Davis, both enthusiastic supporters of the Leave campaign in Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, favor a clean break and arms-length relationship, while May recently revealed her preference for a “soft Brexit” and close future ties. May has given Johnson’s old job to Jeremy Hunt, who had been health secretary. Davis’s role will be handled by former housing minister Dominic Raab.

The nation will now wait to see whether the turmoil is over, or if there will be further resignations and disquiet within the Conservative Party and whether there will be a leadership challenge.

May passed the first test when she chaired a meeting of her reshuffled cabinet at 10 Downing Street.

She is now calling on her party to unite, or face the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn and his opposition Labour Party grabbing power.

If May is to face a leadership challenge, it must be mounted through the influential 1922 committee of backbenchers, which comprises ordinary Conservative Party MPs. The committee could demand a “no-confidence” vote if 15 percent of the party’s MPs, currently 48 people, officially call for one.

So far, no such challenge has been mounted and the BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, says it looks as if discontented Tory MPs would rather negotiate with May than bring down her government.

“There is a genuine weariness (and) horror at the thought of more disruption, turmoil and a possible leadership contest,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday.

Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said on the same program that it would be “extremely foolish and extremely ill-advised” if Tory MPs triggered a leadership contest.

“And I am delighted that good sense seems to be breaking out,” he added.

Professor Jon Tonge from the University of Liverpool, told Xinhua news agency that May would probably win a leadership challenge anyway, if one was to materialize.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Rifkind, who served as a cabinet minister under prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, said in an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper that he is “relaxed” about the resignations and more optimistic than he has been for a long time that a good Brexit agreement is within reach.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was not as charitable, saying Johnson and Davis had abandoned a “sinking ship” and that the Tory Party was bitterly divided.

Xinhua said May had told a rowdy House of Commons in the wake of the resignations that Johnson and Davis were wrong in their assessments of what the British people want from Brexit negotiations.

She said the soft Brexit she favors is “the Brexit that will deliver on the democratic decision of the British people, and it is the right Brexit deal for Britain”.

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