Home Secretary Amber Rudd, a faithful ally of Theresa May and pro-European, resigned this week at the cusp of some of the UK’s most crucial Brexit discussions. The former Home Secretary fought off criticism for two weeks over her policy on immigration – criticism which blew up this week after Ms. Rudd ‘inadvertently misled’ Parliament over her department’s deportation targets.
In a Government where everything seems to come back to Brexit, the resignation caused the Prime Minister a problem. The loss of a Remainer could unbalance the delicate political harmony of her cabinet, at a crucial time in the negotiations, and with transformational votes on Brexit on the immediate horizon.
In the end the appointment of Sajid Javid neatly skirted the issue. He is a Remainer – but only just. He was once a Eurosceptic, leading many to quietly suggest that Javid’s appointment is a quiet victory for their cause.
Unrest in the Lords
Rudd’s resignation comes at a terrible time for the Prime Minister, who has suffered several recent blows, the latest in which the House of Lords voted to give Parliament a “meaningful say” over the terms of any future deal with the EU. While the Government can remove the amendment in the Commons, having Parliament contradict its negotiating position, while negotiations are still taking place, puts it in a difficult position.
Customs Union negotiations
Parliamentarians are also preparing to vote on key debates around the customs union, and this mini-shuffle kerfuffle brought on by Rudd’s resignation again redraws the battle lines. The Prime Minister is preparing to put her ‘customs partnership’ proposal before Parliament on 2nd May, a model that would remove the need for a customs border and which will certainly be met with dissatisfaction from hard Brexiters. This discussion will be far from an isolated event however- next month, Parliament will debate the customs union off the back of a cross-party amendment to the Withdrawal Bill which clearly calls for Britain to remain in a customs union. Speculation suggests that the Prime Minister may be defeated on the issue of a customs union by a coalition of Labour MPs and pro-European MPs from her own party, and delaying key votes won’t change that.
It would appear therefore, that the sudden departure of Amber Rudd, a great ally for Mrs. May, and an outspoken pro-European, could not have come at a worse time. That said however, it follows a series of Ministerial resignations over the past few months that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling describes as ‘unwanted noise’. Fundamentally, the balance in Mrs. May’s Brexit subcommittee, still composed of 5 pro-Remainers and 5 non-Remainers, has not changed either. And whilst Amber Rudd is unlikely to wave her P45 from the backbenches just yet by being overly critical of Government policy, she may feel compelled to support pro-European Tories in key Brexit votes. One thing that is certain is that if, over the coming months, the Prime Minister is cornered into a customs partnership, she may find two slightly less apologetic letters of resignation on her desk from David Davis and Boris Johnson.
By Amy Naughton-Rumbo