Amber Rudd has resigned from Cabinet and given up the Tory whip in protest at Boris Johnson’s decision to sack more than 20 Conservatives who backed a bill to block a no-deal Brexit.
The former work and pensions secretary said she could not “stand by as good, loyal moderate Conservatives are expelled”.
Rudd told the Sunday Times that Johnson’s decision to expel 21 of her colleagues – including Father of the House Ken Clarke and Winston Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames – was an act of “political vandalism” that would damage the party for decades to come.
In a blow to Johnson, she also said she had seen “no evidence” that he was trying to seek or close to securing a new deal with Brussels, despite claims from ministers that the government is making progress.
Chancellor Sajid Javid told the BBC he was “very saddened” Rudd had left government.
“I have to say whilst I respect her deeply, I don’t agree with her on what I thought was her central point in her letter was which was that she said that the government wasn’t taking seriously the issue of getting a deal with the EU.”
Javid said it “couldn’t be further than the truth” that the government was not trying for a new Brexit deal. He said the government’s “central focus” was to leave the EU on 31 October.
Rudd said she would stand as an “independent Conservative” in a different seat from her current constituency of Hastings and Rye, where she holds a majority of just 346.
In her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Rudd wrote: “This has been a difficult decision. I joined your Cabinet in good faith; accepting that ‘no deal’ had to be on the table, because it was the means by which we would have the best chance of achieving a new deal to leave on 31 October.
“However, I no longer believe leaving with a deal is the government’s main objective.”
She continued: “The government is expending a lot of energy to prepare for ‘no deal’ but I have not seen the same level of intensity go into our talks with the European Union who have asked us to present alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop.
“The updates I have been grateful to receive from your office have not, regretfully, provided me with the reassurances I sought.
“I must also address the assault on decency and democracy that took place last week when you sacked 21 talented, loyal One Nation Conservatives.
“This short-sighted culling of my colleagues has stripped the party of broad-minded and dedicated Conservative MPs. I cannot support this act of political vandalism.”
Johnson suffered a handful of parliamentary defeats last week – the first back from the summer recess – when 21 Tories rebelled to support legislation that would force the Prime Minister to seek a Brexit extension beyond 31 October.
The bill has now passed in the House of Lords and will return to the House of Commons to be ratified on Monday.
Rudd’s resignation also follows that of Johnson’s brother Jo Johnson, who quit as MP and minister citing an “unresolvable tension” between his family loyalty and the national interest.
Ms Rudd’s resignation comes as PM Boris Johnson is reportedly considering defying a new law aimed at forcing him to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline if he fails to secure parliamentary approval on an exit agreement by 19 October.