Rudd returns to Cabinet with show of support for May

Amber Rudd has returned to Theresa May's Cabinet and pleaded with Tory rebels to back the Prime Minister and her Brexit deal.

The new Work and Pensions Secretary immediately began efforts to shore up Mrs May's embattled position, telling Conservative MPs: "This is not a time for changing our leader."

The Prime Minister's critics believe they have the numbers required to trigger a confidence vote within days.

Mrs May also appointed Stephen Barclay as her new Brexit Secretary, but the role has been further downgraded as the Prime Minister will in future take sole control of negotiations on EU withdrawal.

Leave-supporting 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.

He said: "We now need to keep up the momentum to finalise the withdrawal agreement and outline political declaration and deliver a Brexit that works for the whole UK."

New Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/(Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)/PA)
New Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/(Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)/PA)

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

Mr Barclay's appointment came after Mr Gove reportedly turned down the post, 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."

The appointments followed the resignations of Dominic Raab and Esther McVey over the Brexit plan and came amid mounting expectation that the Prime Minister's leadership will be put to a vote of MPs.

In her first act in her new job, Ms Rudd delivered a pointed message to her colleagues: "This is a time for pulling together, for making sure we remember who we are here to serve, who we are here to help: that's the whole of the country.

"I worry sometimes colleagues are too concerned about the Westminster bubble rather than keeping their eye on what our job is – to serve people."

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

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

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.

Mrs May's position was bolstered by support from Brexiteer ministers Mr Gove and Liam Fox.

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."

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox 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.

Steve Baker, a ringleader of Tory Brexiteers, 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, Mr Baker 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.