With a more Leave-inclined minister in Cabinet, and Rudd on the backbenches with other rebels, the Brexit faultline in government is deeper than everby Sam Moore / April 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
From 1997-2016, it was said that the Treasury ran the Government. Now, we’re seeing what happens when the Home Office runs Number 10. For better or worse, Home Secretary Theresa May is the Ghost of Christmas Past for former secretary Amber Rudd, and now for her brand-new replacement, Sajid Javid.
The lead-up to Rudd’s resignation illustrates the way May’s work as Home Sec continues to impact her goals and policies as Prime Minister. Although Amber Rudd was not the architect of the “hostile environment” policy that has been placed into the headlines by the Windrush scandal, her presence at the Home Office—and how she handled the ongoing scandal—meant that she became emblematic of the problem.
Now that Rudd is gone, people will be looking for someone to blame for the Windrush scandal, and the Prime Minister will now find more eyes on her.
The Windrush fallout clearly played a role in the selection of Amber Rudd’s replacement, former Housing Secretary Sajid Javid. This weekend, Javid revealed that upon hearing about the Windrush scandal, his immediate thought was “it could have been me, my mum, or my Dad.”
Already, Javid has said that that treating the Windrush generation “with decency” is his most pressing concern as Home Secretary. If doing this means dealing with the impact of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy more broadly, he may already be preparing to butt heads with the PM.
It isn’t just his response to Windrush that may lead to a conflict between the Prime Minister and her new Home Secretary, but also his stance on Brexit. Throughout her Premiership, Theresa May has always tried—whether out of choice or pragmatic necessity—to keep a Brexit balance in the Cabinet, but the appointment of Javid shifts the balance in favour of Leave.
Two weeks ago, Javid tweeted that “British people gave politicians clear instructions through EU referendum. Includes leaving the Customs Union, an intrinsic part of the EU. Britain must leave CU and be able to negotiate & sign own trade deals.” (Recently, the issue of the Customs Union has served as the dividing line between hard and soft Brexit in May’s cabinet.)
These challenges do not end where the frontbench does—as Amber Rudd’s move to the backbenches should remind us. Former Cabinet ministers that have moved to the backbenches, particularly those that are pro-Remain, have often proved to be thorns in the side of the government—including being more willing to rebel on Brexit legislation.
This tradition may well be continued by Rudd, who recently said that the Government’s stance of leaving any form of Customs Union when leaving the EU was not yet the “final decision” of the Cabinet.
With the fault lines running through her government, May would do well to reflect more generally on the positioning of those MPs that were aligned with former Prime Minister David Cameron’s ideas—those who are more socially liberal, more pro-EU, and relatively pro-migration. These MPs, like Nikki Morgan and Justine Greening, have found themselves out of ministerial posts.
Now this “compassionate conservative” branch no longer has a standard bearer (or leader-in-waiting) in the Cabinet. This has the potential to trigger even more rebellion from the backbenches, as MPs find other ways to flex their muscles and allow their voices to be heard; especially if they suspect that the Cabinet is now more likely to pursue a hard Brexit.
The fault lines that challenge Theresa May’s government are running from Number 10 itself all the way to the backbenches. The replacement of Amber Rudd with Sajid Javid reminds us just how deep these fault lines run—and the fact that they won’t be disappearing any time soon.