“Last summer I was speeding. I regret that. I took the fine. I took the penalty. At no point did I attempt to evade sanction,” Suella Braverman told the House of Commons today (22 May), at least five times.
Regardless of whether the Home Secretary was asked if her special advisers had been told to lie to journalists about the allegations, or the specifics of the advice Braverman requested from civil servants, she simply repeated that answer with increasing sarcasm, as if growing tired of the incessant questioning from her colleagues in parliament.
Over the weekend it was alleged in the Sunday Times that Braverman had asked civil servants to arrange a private speed awareness course for her after she was caught speeding last summer. When civil servants refused, she consulted her political advisers, and eventually opted to take the points and pay the fine instead. Braverman is in trouble not because of the speeding, but because she may have breached the ministerial code by asking civil servants to intervene in a personal matter.
Many are wondering if these allegations could bring down the seemingly untouchable Home Secretary. Braverman had previously been forced to resign from the same post under Liz Truss when she forwarded confidential information to a Conservative colleague via email. Sunak reinstated her to the role less than a week later, after he replaced Truss, presumably to appease the right wing of his party, despite pledging “integrity, transparency and accountability” on the steps of Downing Street. The move seemed to suggest that Sunak had been forced to make the deal to secure his position. Braverman has been considered to wield a considerable amount of power over the Prime Minister ever since.
Today’s grilling in the Commons will no doubt concern Sunak. Braverman’s tone was abrasive and dismissive. She repeated the same stock phrase, and refused to engage with MPs who accused her of avoiding giving a real answer. She told the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, to “get a grip” and accused Labour of making hay out of the allegations “because it distracts from the fact that they voted against tougher sentences for paedophiles and murderers”. If she had intended to placate those calling for her resignation, she didn’t do a very good job.
It seems likely the Home Secretary is manoeuvring for a future leadership bid. She used her appearance at the National Conservatism conference last week to attack the government’s immigration record, and she has consistently put her name to high-profile, controversial policies.
Her Tory supporters sit on the right of the party, and many are vocally disparaging about the civil service, obstructive parliamentary customs and nosy journalists. Her nonchalant and patronising performance during Commons questions today showed a Home Secretary that cares little for accountability, transparency or parliamentary customs. Yet it will surely go down well with those in the party who wish to quash the out-of-control “blob” – the vague mixture of obstructive forces that reside on Whitehall.
It may well be more beneficial for Braverman’s future to be forced from post than to stay, bruised, in cabinet. On Thursday (25 May) record-high migration levels are expected to be published. These will be concerning to both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, who have pledged to bring immigration down.
Braverman could use a resignation to her advantage. Leaving her post could easily be spun as a response to an orchestrated witch hunt intended to prevent her from enacting her right-wing agenda. The ploy is this: if Sunak accepted her departure, it would be the failings of a prime minister who would not stand up for his ministers in the face of partisan civil servants and journalists. If Braverman returned to the back benches, she would be free to become a more vociferous critic of the government’s failures, including on immigration and reform of Whitehall. This would serve her well during future leadership bids.
[See also: Will Suella Braverman be sacked?]