Could Suella Braverman be sacked as Home Secretary for the second time in less than two weeks?
Many Conservative MPs are at a loss as to why the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak – who pledged “integrity and accountability” in the wake of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s failed premierships – reappointed the controversial right-winger to a great office of state at all. Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, is among the Whitehall officials said to have been furious about the appointment.
Braverman today (31 October) admitted that she sent government documents to her personal email on no fewer than six occasions. This was all entirely separate to the incident that the Home Secretary was actually fired for, by Truss, on 19 October, when Braverman forwarded a draft-written ministerial statement on immigration plans to John Hayes, the chair of the anti-woke Common Sense Group of MPs.
Downing Street says that Braverman, who is under growing pressure to resign, apologised and has Sunak’s full confidence. But questions over her suitability for the role don’t end there. Accusations emerged over the weekend that she ignored legal advice about detaining asylum seekers in overcrowded processing centres for too long. A report in the Sunday Times suggested she was warned that the Manston processing centre in Kent, where there are said to be outbreaks of diphtheria and MRSA, was overcrowded.
Scrutiny of the Home Secretary will intensify after a separate centre at Dover was targeted for a petrol-bomb attack yesterday (30 October). It means more migrants will be moved to the 1,600-capacity facility at Manston, pushing its numbers to 4,000.
She was defiant in the Commons today, denying she had either ignored legal advice or blocked the use of hotels for migrants from the processing centre, after Labour’s Yvette Cooper asked “how is anyone is supposed to have confidence in her as a home secretary”.
The minister reached for divisive language as she plotted a way out of the attacks, which included a broadside from Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, as she claimed Britain faced a “an invasion of our southern coast”.
But doubling down and playing up to the hardliner image may not be enough to save her job at the Cabinet table.
Sunak has been accused of striking a deal with Braverman to secure the Conservative leadership in the wake of Truss’s chaotic resignation. It is claimed he guaranteed she would be his home secretary to ensure she did not give her influential endorsement to Boris Johnson.
The former prime minister was ridiculed for suggesting he had the support of enough MPs to win. But, with the backing of Braverman and other members of the eurosceptic parliamentary European Research Group (ERG), Johnson – who Tory members have never stopped admiring – would have mounted a serious challenge to Sunak.
Yet the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint Braverman was, nevertheless, a big risk. The clean state he promised the country in his first speech as PM is now daubed with questions the public will find troubling. Can the Home Secretary be trusted by MI5? And exactly what information was in the official document that Braverman shared with Hayes?
One school of thought is that Sunak wanted Braverman – or “leaky Sue” as civil servants apparently call her – to be allowed to fail, at least on policy matters. That way he could say to the ERG, “Well, at least I tried,” before ushering in his long-term ally, Robert Jenrick, who was appointed immigration minister in the reshuffle.
But after days of headlines similar to the end of Johnson’s chaotic reign, Sunak may have miscalculated. His outriders’ defence of Braverman – that she is being targeted by leftie foes because she is tough on immigration – is beginning to wear thin. Tory MPs are now split over whether Braverman should stay. Some claim, and perhaps hope, that the rows have been overhyped. Others fear that this is just the beginning.
Sunak now faces a stark choice. Does he keep Braverman, who appears a political liability, and face further questions about his judgement? Or does he gift his opponents an early ministerial scalp to clear the path ahead?