- Amber Rudd resigns as Home Secretary following a series of damaging revelations.
- Rudd quits Cabinet Cabinet following the Windrush scandal and leaks suggesting she lied to MPs about deportation targets.
- Her departure means Theresa May has lost a loyal ally around the Cabinet table.
- Rudd’s successor has a huge task in rebuilding the Home Office’s reputation.
- Rudd’s return to the Conservative backbenches could have major ramifications for May’s Brexit plan.
- Sajid Javid has been chosen to replace Rudd.
LONDON – Amber Rudd resigned as the UK government’s Home Secretary on Sunday night after weeks of damaging revelations about the Home Office’s handling of immigration under her leadership.
After days of opposition MPs calling for her to quit, Rudd finally caved in to pressure last night, announcing her departure from Theresa May’s Cabinet at 10:05 p.m.
Rudd first came under the spotlight earlier this month when it emerged that many Caribbean-born UK immigrants – known as the Windrush generation – had been harassed, threatened with deportation, and made destitute despite being legally resident in Britain. The scandal sparked outrage within Westminster, on newspaper front pages, and across the country as a whole.
Last week, Rudd’s situation got worse when she was accused of lying to MPs. Rudd told the Home Affairs Select Committee that she was not aware of the Home Office having targets for deportations.
However, The Guardian has published leaked documents which suggest Rudd was aware of these targets being in operation, and in 2017 wrote to Prime Minister May to boast about them.
In the end, the huge pressure Rudd was under meant she was all but certain to step down. But what does her resignation actually mean?
May has lost one of her biggest allies
The prime minister has been in a precarious position ever since throwing away her majority in last year’s snap general election, with question marks over her capacity to lead the country following her wherever she goes. Rudd has been one of May’s few genuine allies around the Cabinet table during the prime minister’s most difficult moments, and her departure will undoubtedly come as a blow.
Rudd has acquired the reputation of being May’s personal human shield. In the run-up to last year’s election, she stood in for May at a TV debate just 48 hours after her father passed away – and put in a performance which the prime minister would have been pleased to deliver herself. She was also caught ordering Boris Johnson to stand up and give May a supportive a round of applause during her disastrous Conservative party conference speech.
More recently, Rudd has effectively stood in front of May to protect her from criticism over the Windrush fiasco. At the heart of the scandal is the controversial “hostile environment” policy, which May introduced herself when serving as Home Secretary to target undocumented migrants. The policy – first drawn up in 2010 – involved vans carrying billboards reading “go home or face arrest” being driven around the country. Critics say the policy helped created a toxic atmosphere towards migrants living in the UK. Yet, despite May’s obvious role in the recent controversy, it has been Rudd who has taken the brunt of the backlash.
With talk of a leadership challenge May again rearing its head, May cannot afford to lose loyal ministers like Rudd.
The Home Office is in a mess
Rudd’s successor – former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid – will have an almighty task on their hands in rebuilding the Home Office’s reputation. The Windrush scandal has painted the department in an ugly light in recent weeks and whoever replaces Rudd will need to address this. It’s not just a departmental problem but a party one, too. The Windrush story has reinforced the stereotypical view of the Conservative party that it is nasty and unreasonable when it comes to migrants. The Tories cannot afford this caricature when it is struggling to win over key voter groups like young people and liberal city-dwellers.
The Windrush affair has also raised huge questions about the Home Office’s competence, and what EU citizens living in Britain should come to expect when it comes to their own rights. The department is tasked with giving residency rights to around 3.5 million EU citizens living in Britain before Brexit is finalised – astonishingly, that works out at around at one citizen every four seconds. A Business Insider report earlier this month highlighted that the department was stifled by a lack of staff, resources and time to deliver the changes needed for Britain’s exit from the European Union. This includes the enormous job of putting together a whole new immigration system.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator,said he was worried that the Windrush affair meant a “bureaucratic nightmare” awaited EU citizens in the UK. “Certainly after the Windrush scandal in Britain, we want to be sure that the same is not happening to our European citizens and that there is no bureaucratic nightmare there,” he said. Verhofstadt’s fears won’t exactly have been alleviated by the news that the mobile app created by the government help EU citizens secure their rights will not work on iPhones.
Rudd could rebel against May’s Brexit plan
Lots of ministers expressed their sadness to see Rudd go. She is a well-respected MP who was once regarded as a potential successor to Prime Minister May. “I’m so sad about Amber’s departure from government,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove said. “she was a huge asset – brave, principled, thoughtful, humane, considerate and always thinking of the impact of policy on the vulnerable – I hope Amber will be back soon – we need her.” Foreign Secretary Johnson tweeted:
Really sad to lose @AmberRuddHR from Cabinet. A fine colleague who did a great job during last year's terrorist attacks and cares deeply about the people she serves.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 29, 2018
However, perhaps nobody in the Conservative party will be happier to see Rudd return to the backbenches than its rebels – or “saboteurs” as the Daily Mail notoriously described them. Tory MPs Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Ken Clarke among others have voted with Labour and other opposition MPs against the government on a number of Brexit issues, including the recent non-binding vote on staying in a customs union. With crucial pieces of Brexit legislation on the horizon, Rudd – who campaigned passionately for Remain – could add her name to that list of rebels.
This could be very dangerous for May and bad news for the party’s leading Brexiteers. Not only would an alliance between Rudd and the rebels shift the House of Commons balance away from Brexit by two votes, but would give the rebels valuable intelligence on what May’s Cabinet is privately thinking about key issues. Rudd was present for a number of Cabinet meetings on Brexit. She knows where the bodies are buried, as the old saying goes. With crucial parliamentary votes on issues like the customs union coming up, Rudd’s inside knowledge of Cabinet thinking could provide the rebels with a major strategic advantage. Speaking on Sunday night, leading rebel Soubry said: “Amber will be missed in many ways. We’ll give her a huge welcome on to our backbenches.”
Whether Rudd sides with Soubry and co is not set in stone. After all, her constituency Hastings and Rye voted to leave the EU, and her majority was slashed to just 346 votes at the last election. Taking a stand against May’s Brexit plan has its obvious electoral risks. The question facing Rudd is whether those risks are worth it.
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