Theresa May cannot rely on the Brexiteers in her Cabinet to go out and sell her draft Brexit deal enthusiastically. Liam Fox has been helpful to her today, but within very narrow confines. Two of the holders of great offices of state want the Prime Minister to return to Brussels to push for concessions – Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt. That has left her reliant this week on the energetic Matt Hancock.
Amber Rudd’s return to the top table will be linked to Downing Street’s need for strong, articulate, media-experienced performers to tour the studios on May’s behalf. The new Work and Pensions Secretary is a first-class communicator: far more adept than the Prime Minister at getting on the front foot, and completely committed to a central element of the draft deal: frictionless trade – or as near to frictionless as can be achieved. She was a passionate Remainer during the EU referendum, stepping up for TV debates, and closely linked to the anti-Brexit campaign in which her brother, Roland Rudd, was a big cheese.
In one sense, the appointment is surprising. Rudd was a senior voice in the pro-deal element of backbench former and present Tory Remainers. Her departure leaves it weaker. Furthermore, she has an ultra-marginal seat, and is now to be responsible for the hyper-vulnerable business of managing Universal Credit.
But she is the kind of centre-leftish Conservative who is now at this Government’s centre of gravity. Esther McVey out, Rudd in makes the Cabinet even less leave-tilting than before, with Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and McVey all gone. There is a big question about whether a Minister compelled so recently to resign should return to government so quickly. There has been a campaign to suggest that civil servants were to blame for the Windrush debacle. But for all Rudd’s force on television, she didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary. However, she does fill a gap as a Soft Brexitish future leadership contender. It is possible there may be a vacancy soon.