U.K. Minister in Charge of Brexit Negotiations Resigns



LONDON—

David Davis,

the minister in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, resigned unexpectedly Sunday night, likely heralding a further period of turmoil for the government of Prime Minister

Theresa May.

The resignation by a prominent minister who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU follows a cabinet meeting on Friday in which a plan for Britain’s future relationship was finally hammered out, 25 months after a referendum vote to leave the EU.

The proposal, under which Britain would commit to following EU regulations for food and manufactured goods, has generated disquiet among some Brexit supporters who want a more fundamental break from the bloc.

The resignation increases the likelihood that Mrs. May will face an attempt to unseat her from within her own Conservative Party, with the possibility that Mr. Davis would seek to stand as a candidate to succeed her if a leadership race ensues. It also raises the possibility that other pro-Brexit ministers will follow Mr. Davis out the door.

In a letter to Mrs. May, Mr. Davis said “the current trend of policy and tactics” makes the Conservatives’ pledge to leave the EU’s single market and customs union “less and less likely.”

“The cabinet decision on Friday crystallized this problem,” he wrote. The policy “hands control of large swaths of our economy to the EU,” adding the negotiating approach could just lead to further demands for concessions from the EU.

“The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one,” he wrote.

In her reply, Mrs. May took issue with Mr. Davis. “The direct effect of EU law will end when we leave the EU,” she wrote, adding that Parliament would decide which EU rules and regulations the U.K. would follow.

“Choosing not to sign up to certain rules would lead to consequences for market access, security cooperation or the frictionless border,” she wrote.

Downing Street said a successor to Mr. Davis would be announced on Monday morning.

A fault line ran through the center of the Conservative Party for more than two decades over Britain’s membership in the EU. Since the 2016 referendum, a fault line remains between those who want to make a fundamental break with the bloc—giving the country more freedom to set its own regulations and free to sign trade deals elsewhere in the world—and those who want to remain close to its main trading partner because of concerns about damage to the economy.

The EU has yet to react in detail to the U.K. proposals. It isn’t clear whether the bloc would accept selective access to its internal market, as proposed by the U.K., given that it has previously ruled out such “cherry picking.”

Withdrawal is set for March, though both sides have provisionally agreed to a so-called transition period that keeps the U.K. bound to EU rules until the end of 2020.

Mrs. May’s government has been plagued by uncertainty almost since she took over from

David Cameron

after the 2016 referendum, which intensified after she called an election last year in which she lost her majority. Since then, she has endured a series of prominent ministerial resignations, while her ministers have quarrelled over the proper course for Brexit.

Write to Stephen Fidler at stephen.fidler@wsj.com



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