View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
22 October 2018updated 07 Jun 2021 2:16pm

Why Amber Rudd’s shift on a no-deal Brexit is good news for Boris Johnson

By Patrick Maguire

What is the point of Amber Rudd? That’s the question some Conservative MPs are asking after the Work and Pensions Secretary resiled from her opposition to a no-deal Brexit in a series of radio interviews this morning. 

Despite having been one of the most vocal cabinet opponents of leaving the EU without an agreement, Rudd now says that she has accepted that no-deal must be “part of the armoury”. Even more crucially, she suggests she is reconciled to leaving the EU by 31 October regardless of the terms of departure — though her preference remains to do so with a deal. 

Rudd’s critics in the Tory parliamentary party grumble that her shift is really a plea for a job in Boris Johnson’s cabinet. If that is true, then it’s at least consistent with the thinking of other cabinet ministers — namely Matt Hancock — who have concluded their personal and political interests are better served by boarding the Johnson train than standing vainly in its path. Rudd’s allies, meanwhile, say she has merely recognised that the electoral context has now changed: with the Tories on the run from Nigel Farage, leaving by Halloween really is, in Johnson’s words, “do or die”.

But neither explanation will pass muster for those Conservative MPs who believe Rudd has failed in every objective she has set herself. Their charge sheet is as follows: Rudd’s One Nation caucus, sold to colleagues as a scheme to anoint a candidate opposed to no-deal, has quite obviously not fulfilled its founding aim. Jeremy Hunt, who Rudd has endorsed, is going to lose; and now she is set to end the contest endorsing the very outcome she intended and expected to stop. 

It’s for this reason that Team Johnson are chipper, though their high spirits owe less to Rudd’s implicit support for their Brexit policy than what they think her journey signifies. The working assumption in the frontrunner’s camp is that, when push comes to shove, nowhere near enough Conservative MPs will be willing or able to take radical action to prevent no-deal — be that through withdrawing their support from the government in a confidence vote, or another procedural wheeze.

Johnson strategists point to the failure of Dominic Grieve’s bid to legally bar the next prime minister from proroguing parliament earlier this week, and the passage by a single vote of another amendment that will make prorogation slightly more difficult, as evidence that the parliamentary arithmetic is really in their favour (despite the truism that the Commons is opposed to no-deal). They have taken Rudd’s shift as further evidence that Tory MPs would prefer to make their peace with a no-deal Brexit than incur the political pain of acting to stop it. “If Rudd isn’t willing to walk,” says one campaign source, “then they definitely won’t get enough come crunch time.”

Others believe it is too early to tell. Johnson backers who oppose no-deal believe the real decision point will come in October, which is why they are more relaxed about the failure of Grieve’s amendments than one might expect. They insist that, whatever Rudd and those like her say now, the necessary change in numbers can and will come once the process reaches its endgame in the autumn. Better to expend political capital on measures with teeth. But even optimists admit that they cannot be quite so sure as they once were — and that their assumptions could well be, in the words of one cabinet source, “hopelessly naive”.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU