Home Secretary Amber Rudd is the fourth Conservative minister to resign in the last six months. From the Conservative front bench to her closest aides in No.10, the Prime Minister has lost a lot of allies in the last year.
Since the general election, the aptitude of Theresa May and those surrounding her in the government’s top tier positions has been scrutinised more than ever. In the aftermath of the election, when The Conservative government lost their parliamentary majority, two of Theresa May’s closest advisors resigned under pressure from senior MPs, who criticised the decision to ever have called the snap election which led to the upset.
The next three months saw increased pressure on Theresa May and her cabinet, especially regarding the decision to give £1 billion to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – in the face of opposition parties calling for increased funding for the NHS – to enter a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement and form a parliamentary majority. These difficult few months culminated in the Westminster sexual harassment scandal, where several parliamentary members of staff came forward to accuse ministers of inappropriate behaviour.
On 1 November, Michael Fallon resigned as Defence Secretary following allegations that he had touched the knee of a colleague – he later told the public his past behaviour had ‘fallen short’. Fallon was one of May’s closest cabinet ministers, and his resignation came as a shock to most.
Not long Fallon’s resignation, headlines were re-focussed on Priti Patel, then Secretary of State for International Development, who was revealed by the BBC to have held meetings with Israeli politicians in August 2017 without notifying the Foreign Office. Many called for her resignation, accusing her of breaching the ministerial code, and by 8 November, Patel had resigned from her role.
One month later, Damian Green, the Deputy Prime Minister, resigned following an investigation into his parliamentary conduct, after it was reported that pornography had been found on his office computer by police, a point on which he later misled MPs during a later inquiry.
Green was widely regarded as being the Prime Minister’s closes political ally. At this point in time, he was the third Cabinet minister to be forced from office in a two month period.
Amber Rudd’s career trouble began late last year, when Paulette Wilson, a woman who first came to the UK from Jamaica at the age of ten, spoke to the media about the fact she was facing deportation by the Home Office. Wilson spent more than 50 years in the UK, including a period of time spent working as a cook in the House of Commons, but the Home Office did not believe she had been in the country legally.
Eventually, in January 2018, the Home Office told Wilson she could remain in the UK, but many were already focussed on the behaviour of the Home Office, in particular the hostile environment created by Theresa May and her colleagues whilst she was Home Secretary.
Over the next two months, more people came forward and told their story of how they had been treated unfairly by the Home Office, with one man telling the Guardian he had been left homeless after the government had told him he was not allowed to work, or receive benefits.
On 10 March it was revealed that a man who had lived in London for 44 years was being forced to pay over £50,000 for cancer treatments, unless he produce a British passport. Soon it was revealed that Sylvester Marshall – at the time referred to in the media as Albert Thompson, was part of a group of people who had came to Britain from Commonwealth countries decades ago, and believed themselves to be British. In the face of outrage from both political sides over the treatment of Mr Thompson by the Home Office, Theresa May refused to intervene in the case. Eventually, the media and the public turned on the Home Office.
In April, as Caribbean diplomats began to publicly criticise the Home Office for their treatment of immigrants, the Labour party began to criticise Theresa May for the ‘hostile environment’ put into place when she was in the Home Office. The case of Sylvester Marshall kept being brought up in the House of Commons, and increasing scrutiny fell upon Theresa May and Amber Rudd, who both initially attempted to shift blame onto Home Office staff.
By 16 April, more than 140 MPs had signed a letter demanding that the Prime Minister find a “swift resolution of this growing crisis”. Amber Rudd then issued her first apology of many, for the “appalling” treatment of the Windrush generation. By this point the scandal had already resulted in representatives of 12 Caribbean countries mounting a formal diplomatic request to the government, which was rejected.
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Over the next two weeks, the focus of questioning on Amber Rudd was whether or not the Home Office set targets for deportations of illegal immigrants. Rudd repeatedly rejected the notion, and continued to apologise, whilst the Prime Minister dodged questioning from MPs in the House of Commons.
On 27 April, a day after the Home Secretary claimed she was the best person to fix the problems with the Home Office, a memo leaked to The Guardian revealed that the Home Office had set “a target of achieving 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18” and that they had “exceeded our target of assisted returns”. Two days later, Amber Rudd resigned.
Rudd’s departure comes at a crucial time for Theresa May. On Monday, the government was defeated in the House of Lords, whose peers voted in favour of giving parliament a potentially decisive say in the outcome of Brexit negotiations. MPs may be able to stop the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. Recently, May’s Conservatives also lost a vote on family reunification for asylum seekers after Brexit after peers backed an amendment by Labour’s Lord Dubs.
The combination of defeats in the Lords and scandal on the frontbench is one which will surely keep Ms May up at night. In these situations the PM attempts to aggressively push stories under the carpet, but many suspect these latest scandals, like that of the Windrush generation’s unfair treatment, are hangovers from an earlier stage in her own career, and may not disappear so soon.
Dan Cody is Editor-in-Chief at No Majesty.