Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS

London — Sajid Javid was named the UK’s new interior minister on Monday after Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary, having "inadvertently misled" legislators about deportation targets for illegal immigrants.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street office announced the appointment.

Javid, a former MD at Deutsche Bank, was previously communities and local government secretary.

May lost a pro-European ally when Rudd resigned; she was the fourth cabinet member to quit in six months as internal battles over Brexit come to a head.

The upset destabilises May’s government at a delicate time.

Rudd was a key pro-EU voice who provided a counterpoint to pro-Brexit heavyweights, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

She was due to attend a key meeting of the Brexit "war cabinet" on Wednesday to weigh the options for the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.

Her resignation will change the dynamic in that meeting — and, depending on who replaces her, could shift the cabinet balance in favour of a harder Brexit.

Whether the UK stays in the customs union goes to the heart of what type of Brexit the country will get with less than a year before the country formally quits the bloc in March 2019.

What is clear is that it’s the ever-shifting political balance back in London that is shaping the direction of Brexit.

With Rudd gone, Gove becomes even more important.

Ministers are at odds over what customs arrangements should be put in place after Brexit to replace the current setup, which allows easy trade with Europe through the single market and customs union.

Parliament is forcing May’s hand as Brussels warned May not to expect special favours for the City of London.

The London Sunday Times reported that May has been told to fire the most senior Brexit official in her office, Oliver Robbins, whose proposal for a customs partnership will be discussed on Wednesday.

Pro-Brexit ministers hate his plan and see it as a way of thwarting the kind of divorce they want.

Rudd, widely criticised for the immigration scandal, had also incurred the wrath of pro-Brexit Conservatives.

That was made worse last week when she refused to be drawn on whether the UK would leave the EU’s customs union, hinting at tension in the cabinet.

"We still have a few discussions to be had in a really positive, consensual, easy way," she told reporters, her tone heavy with irony.

Rudd then quickly tweeted to clarify that "of course" she supported May’s aim of leaving the customs union, but the damage was done, with pro-Brexit Conservative legislator Peter Bone tweeting: "We cannot have Home Sec not supporting this key plank of Brexit!"

The fractious split in May’s cabinet reflects anxiety among hardline anti-Europeans that she might water down the terms of Brexit as she struggles to reconcile their demands with those of pro-EU House of Commons legislators emboldened by repeated defeats for the government in the House of Lords.

Rudd will now join those rank-and-file legislators and will be given "a huge welcome", pro-EU Tory legislator Anna Soubry said on Twitter. Vince Cable, leader of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, agreed.

Rudd, with remainers like Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening, will be "a source of considerable headache to May and her more Brexit-oriented colleagues", Cable told the BBC.

Rudd’s exit deprives May of a loyal lieutenant, who filled in for her boss in a televised election debate last year. May lost her de-facto deputy, Damian Green — another pro-EU voice — to a scandal in December.

Immediately after the resignation announcement, Labour turned its fire on May. The prime minister had used Rudd as a "human shield" to protect herself from allegations over the "hostile environment" for immigrants she pursued when she ran the Home Office, the party said.

"We all need to turn our attention to Theresa May because it was in her tenure as Home Secretary that many of the worst aspects of the so-called hostile climate were pushed through," Labour home affairs spokeswoman Dianne Abbott told the BBC.

With local elections in England on Thursday, Labour is likely to capitalise on the government’s woes as its activists knock on doors to drum up support.

In short, it’s going to be another bad week for May.

AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters