Brexit and Collective Responsibility

A key convention in UK Politics is that of Ministerial Collective Responsibility. This convention dictates that regardless of whether Ministers agree or disagree with government policy in private, in public, they must support it. If they cannot bring themselvesto do this, the convention dictates that they should resign from the government. The doctrine applies to all members of the government and has now even been codified by its inclusion in the Cabinet Manual.

Robin Cook famously resigned from the Government in 2003 over the British Invasion of Iraq

Historically, there have been many examples of the doctrine of Collective Responsibility being invoked. There have also been a number of issues that have saw the doctrine being followed. A good example of this is the Iraq War which saw Robin Cook and Clare Short both resigning from Tony Blair’s Cabinet and citing Collective Responsibility as their reason for doing so.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were key figures in the Leave Campaign

However,  no issue has seen more resignations under the doctrine of Collective Responsibility than Brexit. When he was Prime Minister David Cameron anticipated the divisiveness of the issue and decided to suspend Collective Responsibility during the EU Referendum Campaign. It was this that allowed Ministers like Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union despite David Cameron leading the Remain Campaign.

However, after the referendum result, and the formation of Theresa May’s Cabinets, Collective Responsibility is back in force. Although there were always going to be disagreements in Cabinet over Brexit, Ministers have been expected to sell Theresa May’s vision of the direction it should take.

However, many Ministers have found this extremely difficult to do. As of Sunday 17th November 2018, there were sixteen members of the Government who had resigned from the position over Brexit.

Secretaries of State (Members of the Cabinet)

David Davis – Resigned 8th July 2018

David Davis – David Davis was appointed to the newly founded Cabinet position of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Secretary). During the referendum campaign he had campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union. As Brexit Secretary it was his job to negotiate with the EU about the terms of Britain’s Exit. It quickly became clear that he was being largely sidelined by Theresa May and when she announced her Chequer’s Plan he decided he could no longer stay in post.

Resignation Letter Quote:The Cabinet decision on Friday crystallised this problem. In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, 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.”

Boris Johson – Resigned 9th July 2018

Boris Johnson – Theresa May made Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary when she became Prime Minister. He had campaigned to leave the European Union and was seen my many to have been the most decisive voice in the Leave campaign. In his role as Foreign Secretary Johnson should have been taking a lead role in negotiating Britain’s Exit from the EU. However, it was clear that he never really agreed with the direction Theresa May was pursuing. He had already pushed the boundaries of Collective Responsibility many times before his eventual resignation. For example, he had written  a column for the Daily Telegraph in 2017 in which he laid out a vision of Brexit that seemed different to that of the Prime Minister. Johnson finally resigned on the 9th July 2018 after stating that he could not accept the Prime Minister’s Chequers Plan.

Resignation Letter  Quote:Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy. That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”

Dominic Raab – Resigned 15th November 2018

Dominic Raab – Appointed Brexit Secretary after the resignation of David Davis, Raab was in post for little more than four months. He decided to resign the morning after Theresa May announced her Draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. Raab had always held reservations over the direction of the negotiations and decided not to stay in the Cabinet and support the Prime Minister’s agreement with the EU. 

Resignation Letter  Quote: I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election. This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.”

Esther Mcbey- Resigned 15th November 2018

Esther McVey – McVey became the second Cabinet Member to resign on the morning after Theresa May’s Draft Agreement with the EU was published. McVey is a staunch leaver and had long harboured doubts over the direction the government was taking. Her position was not helped by problems she had in the Department of Work and Pensions after it was perceived that she had lied to the House of Commons over Universial Credit. McVey was clearly not a fan of Theresa May and would not stand by and accept a Brexit deal that she did not agree with.

Resignation Letter  Quote: I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal. I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that. I therefore have no alternative but to resign from the Government.”

Ministers of State

Shailesh Vara – Reisgned 15th November 2018

Shailesh Vara – Vara was one of four resignations the day after the Draft Withdrawal Agreement was published. Vara had been appointed Minsiter of State for Northern Ireland in January 2018. He resigned on the day that the Draft Withdrawal Agreement was published.


Jo Johnson – Resigned 9th November 2018

Jo Johnson – Jo Johnson, the younger broter of Boris, is one of the most interesting resignations from Theresa May’s ministerial team. This is because Johnson was a firm remainer. However, he resigned as a Minister for Transport because he believed negotations had failed and because he wanted to be able to campign for a second refendum.

Guto Bebb – Resigned 16th July 2018


Guto Bebb – Bebb was Minister of Procurment in the MoD until the 16th July 2018 when he resigned following the publication of the Drat Withdrawal Agreement.




Other Members of the Government


Andrea Jenkins – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Resigned 25th May 2018.


Chris Gree – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Transport. Resigned 8th July 2018. 


Steve Baker – Parliamentary Private Secretary to for the Department for Exiting the European Union. Resigned 9th July 2018.


Robert Courts – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Office. Resigned 15th July 2018.


Scott Mann – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Treasury. Resigned 16th July 2018.


Rehman Christi – Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. Resigned 15th November 2018.


Ranil Jayawardena – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions. Resigned 15th November 2018.


Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Parliamentary Private Secretary. Resigned 15th November 2018.

Suella Braverman – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Resigned 15th November 2018.


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