What does Sajid Javid’s appointment as Home Secretary mean for the UK government’s approach to Brexit? After the overnight drama following Amber Rudd’s resignation, the implications are front and centre of discussion at Westminster.
The trigger for Ms Rudd’s departure was, of course, her failure to deal effectively with the Windrush scandal. But her resignation comes at another critical moment in the Brexit saga and could have an impact on the direction of events.
Here are four questions raised by the change at the Home Office.
First, does Mr Javid’s appointment shift the balance in the Brexit subcommittee between Leavers and Remainers?
Mrs May’s ministerial committee on Brexit is split 5-5 between pro-Europeans and hard Brexiters, with Mrs May holding a casting vote.
Ms Rudd was one of the most committed Remainers in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Although Mr Javid was also pro-Remain, he is a much less enthusiastic pro-European than his predecessor.
For now, it is hard to see Mr Javid’s appointment changing the balance in the committee much. An important early test will come on Wednesday, when Mrs May is determined to get her committee to back her proposal— one drawn up by her top civil servants but intensely disliked by hard Brexiters, including those in cabinet. This is the next big Brexit “moment”.
What does Mr Javid’s appointment mean for the government’s policy on migration from the EU?
Although Amber Rudd has set out most of the details on “settled status” for the 3.2m EU expats in the UK, no decisions have yet been taken on future immigration policy.
This delay has been widely criticised and it may well fall to Mr Javid to set out the plans later this year. The key question is whether EU migrants will get preferential access to the UK over and above those from non-EU states.
Mr Javid has said little on the topic. But he is expected to demonstrate a reasonably liberal approach to immigration, not least because of its net economic benefits. As communities secretary, he notably said any new immigration system for EU workers such as “work visas” would be designed to ensure that “the building sector has got whatever it needs to reach my ambition” of building 1m homes by 2020.
Will Amber Rudd join pro-Europeans on the Conservative backbenches?
The Commons is heading for a series of crucial votes on the customs union and on the final deal that Mrs May brings back from Brussels. If Ms Rudd were to lend her support to pro-European MPs like Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve, that could be a significant development.
However, Ms Rudd may find it hard to criticise government policy, having been at the centre of Brexit decision-making for so long. Other pro-Europeans who have left the cabinet, Damian Green and Justine Greening, have been notably quiet. And Ms Rudd may be calculating how to make a comeback.
Final question: has this politically damaged Mrs May?
The prime minister is under fire for having been the true author of the “hostile environment” policy that led to the Windrush debacle. Now that Ms Rudd has gone, opposition attacks on the PM herself could intensify.
Mrs May will almost certainly survive in post until after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. But damage to her leadership over the Windrush debacle comes at an unfortunate moment — just as she is about to confront the hard Brexiters over her plans to implement a “customs partnership”.
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Many more people continue to agree rather than disagree that referendums should be used more often to determine important questions: 58 per cent to 36 per cent, according to the Hansard Society’s latest Audit of Political Engagement:
“As Figure 6 shows, the number of people supporting more referendums has fallen again this year but only by three points, while the number opposing more referendums barely moved, rising by just one point. After the number supporting greater use of referendums fell by 15 points last year, in the immediate aftermath of the EU vote, this year’s result suggests some stabilisation in this indicator. This might in turn suggest that people are not engaging in any longer-term reflection on the 2016 referendum that is significantly altering their attitudes."
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