New home secretary shifts May government toward harder Brexit

Lifelong eurosceptic Sajid Javid has aligned himself with cabinet Brexiteers in recent months

Sajid Javid stands outside the Home Office after being named home secretary. Photograph: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Sajid Javid stands outside the Home Office after being named home secretary. Photograph: REUTERS/Toby Melville

 

Sajid Javid’s appointment as home secretary following Amber Rudd’s resignation shifts the balance within Theresa May’s cabinet towards a harder version of Brexit at a crucial moment.

Although he campaigned to remain in the European Union in 2016, Javid is a lifelong eurosceptic who has aligned himself with the cabinet’s Brexiteers in recent months.

  As home secretary, he will join the cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee that will this week discuss Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU.

In an interview published hours before Rudd’s resignation on Sunday, Javid suggested that remaining in a customs union would be a betrayal of the referendum vote.

  “If you want to take the main message that resonated with those that voted Leave, it has to be ‘take back control’,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

  “You won’t be taking back control if you leave the EU and stay in the customs union, for me it is as simple as that.”

  May is publicly committed to leaving the customs union, and her government has proposed two options to replace it: a customs partnership that would see Britain collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU, and a customs arrangement that would use technology and trusted trader schemes to make customs controls less intrusive.

  Brexiteers fear the customs partnership could be adapted to become a customs union in all but name – or prove so unworkable that Britain remains in the customs union indefinitely. They hope this week’s meeting of the cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee will take it off the table.

  Rudd was, along with chancellor Philip Hammond, the cabinet’s most powerful advocate for a soft Brexit that put the interests of business and the economy first. Her resignation could strengthen the pro-European voice on the Conservative backbenches, where former ministers Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Dominic Grieve lead a small rebel group that has already voted with the opposition to defeat the government on Brexit.

  The prospect of an early return to cabinet, hinted at in May’s response to her resignation letter, could help to dissuade Rudd from joining the rebels. Her tiny minority of just 346 votes in a Leave-voting constituency could further inhibit any rebellious instinct.

  Rudd’s departure brings the Windrush scandal closer to May, who pursued a harsh, uncompromising approach to immigration as home secretary.

It remains unclear if Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants and whose father worked as a bus driver, will be able to bring a new approach to the government’s immigration policy as well as offering it a new face.

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