Amber Rudd’s overdue resignation from the cabinet deprives the government of one of its most senior Remainers. Unlike Theresa May, her Home Office successor was an unambiguous supporter of the EU and, like her political mentor George Osborne, favours a “soft Brexit”.
Rudd’s return to the backbenches could aid Remainers in several respects. In the forthcoming – and long-delayed – customs union vote, the Hastings MP may now side with Tory rebels such as Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan (though Rudd’s constituency, where she has a majority of just 346, was 56 per cent Leave).
In her last major appearance as home secretary, at a Press Gallery lunch, Rudd notably suggested that the government could yet back a customs union with the EU (“We still have a few discussions to be had…in order to arrive at a final position”). Such is the tightness of the parliamentary arithmetic that Rudd’s resignation could make the difference between victory and defeat for May.
As a member of the cabinet, and of the Brexit “inner cabinet”, Rudd has also been party to all the recent discussions and papers on EU withdrawal. Just as Osborne’s fusillades against May are amplified by his knowledge of the inner workings of government, so Rudd’s interventions will be (her brother, Roland, incidentally, is the chairman of the anti-Brexit Open Britain).
The departure of a fourth cabinet minister in six months (Michael Fallon, Priti Patel and Damian Green preceded Rudd) enhances the scent of decay around the government . Theresa May has lost the political firewall that separated her from the Windrush scandal. But it is on Brexit – the greatest task that the government faces – that Rudd could cause the Prime Minister most damage.