February 28, 2019
Minister resigns in protest against Theresa May agreeing to possible Brexit delay
Junior minister George Eustice resigns over article 50 vote
Agriculture minister George Eustice has resigned from the government over Theresa May’s decision to allow a vote on delaying article 50, saying it would be “the final humiliation of our country”.
Eustice, a long-standing Brexiter and former Ukip candidate, said he wanted to be free to participate in debates in parliament in the coming weeks, saying he resigned with “tremendous sadness”.
The ex-minister said he would vote for May’s withdrawal agreement but said he felt he had “stuck with the government through a series of rather undignified retreats”.
Eustice said he felt the prime minister had been “terribly undermined” by ministers and MPs who did not want the referendum result to be carried out.
“I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country,” he said in his resignation letter.
Though he said the prime minister had shown “tenacity and resilience”, he suggested both the prime minister and parliament had lost its nerve. “What our country needs from all its political leaders at this critical juncture is courage, and we are about to find out whether parliament has it,” he said.
Eustice, the MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, also criticised the conduct of the Brussels negotiators. “I do not believe that the commission has behaved honourably during these negotiations,” he said.
“They have deliberately made progress slow and difficult. They have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave.
“If the position of parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck. This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk through the door.”
Eustice said that MPs should be prepared to vote to leave with no deal and “have the courage, if necessary, to reclaim our freedom first and talk afterwards”.
A former farmer, Eustice stood for Ukip in 1999 and worked on the no campaign against the euro but then worked for the Conservative party under Michael Howard, eventually becoming press secretary to David Cameron when he was leader of the opposition.
In his letter to the prime minister said that he would “do what I can from the backbenches to try to salvage this sorry situation and I hope that, when the moment comes, parliament will not let our country down”.
May announced on Tuesday for the first time that she would give MPs a vote on seeking an extension to the article 50 process if the House of Commons failed to pass her Brexit deal on 12 March. First MPs will be given a vote on 13 March on whether to leave the EU without a deal, followed by one the next day on whether ministers should seek an extension.
The announcement led to a revolt in parliament on Wednesday night by Conservative Eurosceptics, 20 of whom voted against an amendment setting out the schedule of votes, with more than 80 abstaining.
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