The traditional pattern is that a Minister gets into trouble during the week; the “feral pack” of the Westminster lobby turns on him (or her in this case); the Sunday papers provide a fresh revelation, and she is finished off in the Commons early in the week. Her position “becomes unsustainable”. She leaves “because my presence is becoming a distraction”. The Prime Minister casts around for a replacement. The premier in question being Theresa May, trying to govern with no majority, she looks first and foremost for a loyalist. She is also mindful of the male-female balance at the top. Karen Bradley, anyone?
But before the Northern Ireland Secretary or Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid or someone else is measured up for the Garden of Bones, a.k.a the Home Office, it is worth scrutinising today’s papers just a little bit more closely. There is no new revelation on a Minister-toppling scale. Indeed, the main development is that the Home Secretary wants special treatment for EU migrants post-Brexit. Quite right, too – assuming a trade deal. If Global Britain is to mean anything, it will involve trading off preferential access at home for foreign workers for preferential access abroad for British exports – at least in some cases, if the workers are highly skilled. The logic of future migration policy suggests a work permits system within a overall cap.
However, the Home Secretary is not out of the Windrush woods. Some say that she will finally stagger free of them tomorrow, because she hasn’t deliberately misled MPs: after all, if she didn’t see paperwork saying that the Home Office has targets for the removal of illegal migrants, then she can’t have been misleading them when she claimed otherwise. But we may not have heard the last of what Rudd was and wasn’t told. The Sunday Times has a list of pertinent questions. A more agile opposition would already have pressed them – and thus hunted for a smoking gun – rather than demand the Home Secretary’s resignation before news of the paperwork came to light. But Diane Abbott and forensic enquiry are not natural bedfollows.
Rudd’s future is being complicated by the calculations of May and the complications of Brexit. On the one hand, the Prime Minister’s approach to migration and that of her successor are clearly at odds. On the other, May will not want to lose a very senior Remainer from the Cabinet given the Commons arithmetic. An unmuzzled Rudd could stoke Downing Street’s problems over the Customs Union. (Was that the point of her hint, last week, that Britain might stay a member?) January’s reshuffle didn’t go so well. May won’t want to risk another. And there are baleful cross-currents near the top of Cabinet. David Davis’ discontent with Olly Robbins, and thus the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit policy-making, has broken out into the open. We will return to the matter tomorrow.