UK’s May names new Brexit secretary amid crisis over deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed a new Brexit secretary amid a political chaos triggered by multiple resignations over a draft deal on leaving the European Union.

May’s spokesman on Friday said Stephen Barclay, a junior health minister who voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, will be the new Brexit Secretary.

The spokesman said May would personally oversee the negotiations with the EU on the future framework, while Barclay would focus on getting the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement through the UK parliament.

Barclay replaced Dominic Raab, who quit as Brexit minister on Thursday over May’s draft plan.

The former insurance lawyer is the third person to hold the job overseeing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, after both his predecessors resigned in protest at May’s approach to Brexit.

Former interior minister Amber Rudd was appointed as work and pensions minister, replacing Esther McVey who also resigned over the Brexit deal.

‘Best deal’

May has defended the draft Brexit deal reached with the EU that triggered the resignations of senior ministers and mutiny within her Conservative Party.

May appeared on British radio station LBC on Friday, amid mounting speculation that Conservative MPs could trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership in the coming days.

“I truly believe this is the best deal for Britain,” May said of the proposed withdrawal agreement, adding that she was “very sorry” that ministers had quit her government.

When asked to resign by a caller during the radio phone-in, May said that her divorce deal delivered on the key issues for many people who voted to leave the EU.

“You’re absolutely right that for a lot of people who voted ‘Leave’, what they wanted to do was make sure that decisions on things like who can come into this country would be taken by us here in the UK, and not by Brussels, and that’s exactly what the deal I’ve negotiated delivers,” she said.

“We are leaving the European Union on the 29 March, 2019,” she added.

There was intense speculation on Friday morning in London that prominent Brexit hardliner Michael Gove was close to resigning, but he later announced his support for the prime minister.

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people, we can get a good outcome,” he told reporters.

The UK voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, when 52 percent of voters opted for Brexit while 48 percent voted to remain in the EU.

But two years after the vote, the terms of the separation remain undecided.

The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.

It addresses issues including citizens’ rights after Brexit, the controversial “backstop” to avoid a hard border in Ireland and the divorce payment that Britain will pay when it leaves the bloc.

Opponents of the deal have cited concerns that it leaves too much power in Brussels and places Northern Ireland in a separate regulatory regime to the rest of the UK.

Apart from Raab and McVey, two junior ministers also quit and pro-Brexit Conservative MPs warned that May’s deal would not win the approval of parliament.

Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a group of anti-EU Conservatives, submitted a no-confidence letter against the prime minister on Thursday, saying that “it would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside”.

At least 48 such letters from the ruling party MPs are required to trigger a vote of no confidence in the party leader, and a majority of the party’s 315 legislators would have to vote against May in order for her to be removed.

MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Northern Irish party that props up May’s minority government, also expressed strong reservations over the proposed deal.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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