Ministerial Moves, Windrush & Amber Rudd
The resignation of Amber Rudd over the weekend should give some breathing space to the Prime Minister, with the opposition and media having claimed their scalp. While Theresa May is heavily implicated in the creation of the policy environment that saw the Windrush scandal develop, the story has run for a week now and new faces at the Home Office and Ministry of Housing should see the story shift to a new dynamic. The Prime Minister has demonstrated enormous staying power since her arrival at Number 10, and there is little chance of this destabilising her Government, despite having lost four senior ministers in recent months. This won’t stop Labour from trying to gain more capital from the situation, notably ahead of the local elections where the opposition hope to do well in London, which is proportionately more sensitive to the immigration debate than the rest of the country.
Some have suggested that Amber Rudd, a staunchly pro-EU minister, might now be a headache for the Government on the backbenches during Brexit debates and votes. However the pathology of a senior minister who has jumped (and feels wronged) is such that they believe they will shortly be back in Government, so expect to see less mischief from her, at least in the immediate term.
Sajid Javid’s appointment at the Home Office ends a rocky period for him. He was once talked of as a successor to George Osborne at the Treasury, but Brexit and the arrival of Theresa May saw the end of his rise, with many considering him lucky to have survived in Cabinet at all. For a time it was thought he would be demoted or pushed out altogether, particularly around the time of the last and ill-fated reshuffle which in the end saw very little ministerial movement. His ascent also changes the situation in the Brexit War Cabinet, with his Remainer credentials weak at best. Javid has made no bones about his Euroscepticism, despite joining David Cameron in campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU. Indeed only last week Javid was tweeting that leaving the EU meant leaving the Customs Union, which is likely to shift the balance of debate about how to move forward with the UK’s negotiating stance when senior ministers deliberate that position in due course.
The return of James Brokenshire was much anticipated. A loyal and highly thought of minister under Theresa May at the Home Office, Brokenshire resigned as Northern Ireland Secretary on ill health grounds, but trust in him at Number 10 was never in doubt. His reappearance should mean little change in overall policy direction, but his steady hand, competence and closeness to Number 10 could mean housing and other issues under his remit fall a little higher up the list of priorities for the Prime Minister in the future. He was previously Immigration Minister, and therefore in some ways also implicated in the Windrush story. One of his landmark policies was to require all landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, with campaigners arguing this could lead to landlords picking people with ‘British sounding names’. Labour will likely therefore turn on him for a while to see how much further traction this story can generate, again to create momentum in their favour ahead of the local elections.
Another note is that International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt takes over the mantle of Women and Equalities Minister from Amber Rudd. Expect therefore a forensic dissection of her record on voting for equalities from her enemies, especially as she was a prominent Leaver during the Brexit campaign. This adds little to the debate but confirms prejudices held against the Tories by those unlikely to support them anyway.
So the Government trundles on, with the new Ministers probably burnishing the Prime Minister’s attempts to push through her policy of leaving the Customs Union. However the challenge comes when EU legislation returns to the House of Commons from the Lords, with little indication that the Government can yet persuade its Remain-supporting MPs to back her. At that point, it may become an issue of confidence, but all evidence suggests she’ll survive, as she always has.
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