The case for a Brexit government of national unity as Amber Rudd quits – Tom Richmond

AMBER RUDD’S resignation is even more remarkable because she is the first Cabinet minister – certainly in recent decades – to also quit the governing party at the same time.

Amber Rudd has dramatically resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Not even Michael Heseltine (Westland); Robin Cook (Iraq) or Boris Johnson himself (Brexit) went as far as the now ex-Work and Pensions Secretary did on Saturday night.

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And her resignation letter – damning and devastating in equal measure – revealed the extent of the breakdown of trust and civilised politics.

Amber Rudd has issued a devastating rebuke of Boris Johnson.

Sceptical that Mr Johnson wants a deal with the European Union, she described the “short-sighted culling” of “21 talented, loyal One Nation Conservatives” last week – including two former Chancellors – as “assault on decency and democracy”.

Words just as brutal as those used to such devastating effect by Sir Geoffrey Howe against Margaret Thatcher in 1990, they will, ironically, be just a footnote in Brexit history by the time Parliament resumes today after seven days that saw Mr Johnson effectively lose all four votes; see his working majority go from one plus to an unsustainable minus 45 and the resignation of his younger brother Jo from the Cabinet.

Part of Amber Rudd's resignation letter.

It will almost certainly see the completion of the Brexit Delay Bill – issued by the emerging Rebel Alliance against the Government’s wishes – before MPs thwart a second attempt by the Prime Minister to hold a general election on October 15.

However Mr Johnson, who did not want to call an election before his ‘do or die’ Brexit deadline of October 31, will be blocked by Labour, who have spent two years demanding a poll, and others, because they don’t trust a PM who has been in office for just over six weeks.

It’s a state of affairs too far-fetched for Jeffrey Archer, that noted storyteller, who said at the weekend: “We have reached the state where Yes Minister is becoming credible.”

If it wasn’t so serious, it might be funny. But it isn’t. As the Government appointed a seventh Work and Pensions Secretary since early 2016 – no way to run a welfare system – Parliament has, in all respects, become laughing stock.

Boris Johnson is under mounting political pressure.

For, just as Mr Johnson’s dog-whistle politics cannot command the confidence of a deadlocked Commons ahead of shutting down Parliament to facilitate the farce of the party conferences and the PM’s delaying tactics, neither can Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

If he, too, was trusted, there would have been a warmer response to his attempt to become a caretaker PM. Yet, as Ms Rudd was resigning, former Labour MP Angela Smith – who represents Penistone and Stocksbridge – was defecting the Lib Dems; John Mann was quitting as Bassetlaw MP because of his party’s indifference towards anti-Semitism and a hard-left faction was beginning moves to de-select Hull North MP Diana Johnson, the backbencher of the year.

Here, Mr Corbyn’s indulgence of his hard-left Momentum wing, coupled with his ‘creative ambiguity’ over Brexit, is just as big a hindrance as a Prime Minister contemplating breaking the law to force through a no-deal exit from the EU.

The only difference between now, and the three-plus years since the EU referendum, is the emergence of a Rebel Alliance of political moderates from all parties who are trying to find a way forward.

Unlike the 11 breakaway Tory and Labour MPs who quit their parties in February to try to form Change UK – or whatever they’re called today – these are serious politicans trying to bride differences and speak for the ‘silent majority’ who want Brexit reconciled so the country can move on.

It is, frankly, the only glimmer of hope and their efforts – often in the face of the type of awful abuse and death threats which is forcing inoffensive people like Caroline Spelman to quit – do need to be encouraged.

In some respects, MPs could test if there’s support for Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman, as Father and Mother of the House because of their experience, to form an interim government of national unity.

Yet, given that it, too, would also be conflicted by Brexit, its sole remit would be to preside over a series of indicative votes by MPs on every conceivable option – from no-deal to Remain – until they reach the final two which, in turn, are put back to the people in a referendum.

It would require both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to step down or step aside – both claim to put the national interest first – but such an approach would then pave the way for an election next year, potentially under fresh new leaders, in which all the main parties would be committed to implementing the result.

Wishful thinking? Yes. But, given it is this Parliament which was mandated, in the 2017 election, to deliver Brexit, it should also be its job to get this country out of this predicament before more damage is done to the UK’s standing at home and abroad.

Tom Richmond is Comment Editor 
for The Yorkshire Post. @OpinionYP