DURING the past year, Donald Trump’s White House has seen a revolving cast of politicians join and leave it. Like avocado toast and fixed-gear bicycles, this American trend is now catching on in Britain. On April 29th Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, was forced to resign over an immigration policy scandal. The government of Theresa May has now lost six senior ministers from a cabinet of 22 (including one who left because of health reasons) since it was formed last June.
By modern British standards this pace of turnover is unusual. Chris Hanretty, a professor of politics at Royal Holloway university in London, conducted a study that puts the rate of ministerial departures under Mrs May in historical context. Updating that analysis for Ms Rudd’s resignation, we find that that since 1992, it has taken British governments nearly two years, on average, to lose six ministers. Mrs May has managed to achieve that feat in half the time, making her cabinet the most unstable for 25 years.
However, the ministerial attrition rate under Mrs May looks less exceptional in an international context. Among all rich-country governments—the data for which begin in 1990, and include exits caused by death or ill health—the current British one ranks 10th out of 275 first year governments. Mrs May is still a long way from surpassing Ryutaro Hashimoto, the prime minister of Japan from 1996 to 1998, who lost one minister every 35 days, on average.
Quickly rotating casts of ministers are not necessarily a sign of weakness. In many cases, prime ministers take advantage of moments of maximum political power to purge potential challengers for their parties’ leadership from the front benches. Had the Conservatives won a decent majority at the general election last June, Mrs May might well have rid her cabinet of Boris Johnson, the error-prone foreign secretary, who has long been seen as a rival.
As it stands, however, the loss of Ms Rudd is likely to make it even harder for Mrs May to steer Britain through the thorny process of Brexit. The outgoing home secretary was the cabinet’s most prominent Remainer, and her loss will further strain relations between the prime minister and those MPs who seek to maintain close ties with the EU. The latest defenestration could conceivably lead to more departures, including perhaps the most important one of all: bookmakers reckon Mrs May’s own chances of holding her post beyond 2019 are now just 50/50.