LONDON — Former U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said Monday that he won’t seek to challenge Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership after resigning from her Cabinet, but will aim to pressure her to toughen her position on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Davis quit late Sunday, saying he could not support May’s plan for close trade and regulatory ties with the EU after Brexit next year, commonly known as a “soft Brexit.”
His resignation dealt yet another blow to the beleaguered leader, just two days after she announced she had finally united her quarrelsome government behind a plan for a divorce deal with the EU.
Davis said Monday that he believed Britain was “giving too much away, too easily” in the exit talks, saying that May’s plan “would be a risk at least of delivering a poor outcome.”
Davis departure was hailed by pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers, who have long considered May too prone to compromise with the EU.
Some want to use his resignation as a springboard for a leadership challenge, but Davis said he did not want it to become a rallying cry for May’s ouster.
“I like Theresa May, I think she’s a good prime minister,” Davis said.
Davis did not urge other ministers to resign, saying he was in a unique position because the Brexit secretary’s job is to sell the government’s policy.
“I’d have to deliver this. I’d have to do something I didn’t believe in,” he told the BBC. “That’s not a tenable position. … Others don’t have that same responsibility.”
May’s office said a replacement for Davis would be announced Monday.
Less than nine months remain until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019, and the EU has warned Britain repeatedly that time is running out to seal a divorce deal.
During a 12-hour meeting on Friday, May’s fractious Cabinet — including Davis — finally agreed on a plan for future trade ties with the EU.
The plan seeks to keep the U.K. and the EU in a free-trade zone for goods, and commits Britain to maintaining the same rules as the bloc for goods and agricultural products.
Some Brexit-supporting lawmakers are angry at the proposals, saying they will keep Britain tethered to the bloc and unable to change its rules to strike new trade deals around the world.
In his resignation letter, Davis said the “‘common rule book’ policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”
Some euroskeptic lawmakers dream of replacing May with a staunch Brexiteer, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who in the past has disagreed publicly with his boss.
Johnson has not commented publicly since Friday.
But leading pro-Brexit legislator Jacob Rees-Mogg said “I don’t think a no-confidence vote is immediately in the offing.” He urged May to abandon her plans and take a tougher line with Brussels.
Danica Kirka contributed to this story.