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Friday, 16 November 2018

Amber Rudd returns as DWP Secretary as PM looks to shore up position

Written by David Hughes, Andrew Woodcock, Gavin Cordon and Jennifer McKiernan

Amber Rudd made a dramatic return to Theresa May's Cabinet as the Prime Minister sought to bolster her position following the backlash to her Brexit deal.

Meanwhile, Leave-supporting Stephen Barclay has been promoted to Brexit Secretary from a ministerial role in the Department for Health.

In a further reduction to the Brexit Secretary's duties, it was revealed that Theresa May will in future take sole control of negotiations on EU withdrawal.

Mr Barclay's job will be limited to the domestic delivery of EU withdrawal, preparations for Brexit either with or without a deal and shepherding legislation through Parliament.

The reshuffle came just hours after Michael Gove offered the Prime Minister a lifeline by staying on in his Cabinet role.

Environment Secretary Mr Gove insisted he still has confidence in Mrs May who has suffered a series of setbacks following the publication of her draft Brexit deal with Brussels.

She has suffered the loss of four ministers and faces continued speculation that a vote of no confidence in her leadership could be triggered by Tory MPs within days.

Mr Barclay's appointment came after Mr Gove reportedly turned down the post after saying he would only take it if he could renegotiate the EU withdrawal agreement.

Downing Street declined to say whether the Brexit Secretary post had been offered to anyone else before the North-East Cambridgeshire MP, saying only: "He was the Prime Minister's choice for the job."

Ms Rudd (pictured) was a prominent Remain campaigner during the referendum and her return to the Cabinet, in place of Brexiteer Esther McVey who resigned on Thursday, may do little to bridge divides within the Tory ranks.

Ministerial roles went to Stephen Hammond in the Health Department and John Penrose in the Northern Ireland Office, while Kwasi Kwarteng takes up a junior role in Mr Barclay's department.

The rehabilitation of Ms Rudd, who quit in a row over immigration targets, comes after a report concluded she had been let down by her officials.

Asked what Mrs May would say to victims of the Windrush scandal who might feel the Hastings & Rye MP's rehabilitation had come too soon, the PM's official spokesman said: "Amber Rudd took responsibility for what happened but you saw in the Alex Allan report that she was not supported as she should have been in her role.

"The Government has apologised, the Prime Minster and Home Secretary apologised for the Windrush scandal. Mistakes were made which shouldn't have taken place and work is ongoing to make sure those people are properly compensated."

The spokesman said the PM viewed Ms Rudd as "a very experienced Secretary of State who has worked across a number of departments" and was "confident she will do an excellent job".

Speaking outside his departmental office, Environment Secretary Mr Gove was asked if he had confidence in the Prime Minister and replied: "I absolutely do."

He added: "I am looking forward to continuing to work with all colleagues in Government and in Parliament to get the best future for Britain."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mrs May was "very pleased" that Mr Gove will stay on and "continue doing the important work he is doing".

Mrs May also won support from Brexiteer Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who said he had "full confidence in the Prime Minister" and added "ultimately I hope that across Parliament we'll recognise that a deal is better than no deal".

But Brexit-supporting ministers led by Andrea Leadsom are reportedly set to work together on measures to make the deal more acceptable to them.

The Commons Leader is understood to be working with allies to decide what can be done "to get it in a better place", a source said.

In an effort to sell her deal directly to the public, Mrs May took calls on a half-hour phone-in on LBC.

One caller told the PM that Jacob Rees-Mogg would make a better leader, while another said she had "appeased" the EU like Neville Chamberlain in his negotiations with Hitler.

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale and ex-minister Mark Francois were among the latest Tories to submit letters of no confidence in Mrs May as Conservative leader.

The number of letters submitted to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, may now be nearing the 48 needed to trigger a vote.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he had been speaking to colleagues and his count was "a little over 48" with another dozen "probable" - although he acknowledged this may be inaccurate as only Sir Graham knew the true figure.

If Mrs May is ousted, he said Brexiteers needed to agree on a single candidate to avoid the mistakes of the last leadership contest - even if it meant potentially deciding the next prime minister by drawing lots.

But Mrs May's de facto deputy David Lidington said she would "handsomely" win a confidence vote if one was triggered by Tory MPs.

The Prime Minister played down suggestions she might seek to maintain Cabinet unity by offering ministers a free vote when the Brexit deal comes before Parliament, as International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has requested.

"There is Cabinet collective responsibility in this country. Government policy is Government policy," she told LBC.

Labour indicated it would work with rebel Tories to block a no-deal Brexit if Mrs May's EU withdrawal plan fails.

"There are plenty of Conservative MPs who would not countenance us leaving without a deal and I think if it's necessary, we will work together to stop no deal happening," shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.