Steve Baker tells Theresa May he cannot 'sincerely' back Chequers Brexit deal as he quits government
Brexit Minister Steve Baker told Theresa May he could not back her Cabinet Chequers deal with "sincerity and resolve", as he followed his boss David Davis in quitting the Government.
Mr Davis's exit shocked Westminster, coming just days after Mrs May appeared to regain the political initiative by securing a soft Brexit deal with her Cabinet following months of wrangling.
He has now been replaced as Brexit Secretary with former Housing Minister and fellow Brexiteer Dominic Raab.
In a letter sent last night to the Prime Minister, Mr Baker - who only joined the Government in June last year - said he could not back a soft Brexit plan that would have been the "centrepiece" of his job at the Department for Exiting the European Union.
"The policy for our future relationship with the EU agreed by the Cabinet on 6 July will be the centrepiece of DExEU's work," the ex-minister said.
"I acknowledge the Parliamentary opinion and arithmetic which constrain the Government's freedom of action but I cannot support this policy with the sincerity and resolve which will be necessary.
"I therefore write with regret to resign from the Government."
The departure of Mr Baker - former chair of the powerful European Research Group of pro-Brexit backbench Tories - came amid speculation that his colleague Suella Braverman was also poised to quit.
But Ms Braverman stonewalled reporters this morning when she was seen with Theresa May's communications chief Robbie Gibb.
The Prime Minister's reply to Mr Baker said she was "sorry" that the minister had chosen to leave Government, "particularly at a time when we are stepping up the plans on which you have already done so much to make sure the UK is prepared for our departure from the EU in eight months’ time".
While Mrs May said the ex-minister could "take pride" in steering the European Withdrawal Act through parliament, she insisted the Government was continuing to "honour the result of the referendum and the measures we laid out in our manifesto for the general election last year".
She added: "Thank you again for the important contribution you have made at this crucial time for our country. I know that you have much left to contribute in the future."
Mr Baker - who came under fire earlier this year for appearing to accuse Treasury civil servants of skewing forecasts to paint a gloomy picture of the UK's EU withdrawal - also used his letter to heap praise on Whitehall officials' "intellect, perseverance, energy and commitment".
He said: "It is a regret that I leave the Government at a time when Cabinet has resolved to step up delivery of our plans for UK preparedness.
"The skill and professionalism, dedication and composure of officials in DExEU's Policy and Delivery Coordination directorate has been an inspiration.
"Their work gives me hope that our civil service can and will transform government to deliver the agility necesseary to serve the public following our EU exit."