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26 October 2022

The problem with Suella Braverman isn’t just sheer incompetence

As Home Secretary she’s already picked fights with the courts, the police and Guardian readers.

By Jonathan Jones

Suella Braverman’s resignation and prompt reappointment as Home Secretary is a bit of a conundrum. On 19 October (after only 6 weeks in the job) she stood down for what she described as the “mistake” of sending an official document from her personal email. Although, in her words, only a “technical infringement of the rules”, this apparently did not meet the “highest standards” to which Braverman holds herself and meant that resigning was the “right thing to do”. Indeed, she said, “the business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes” and “carrying on” would not be “serious politics”. Those words may of course have been a swipe at Liz Truss, the prime minister, but they were nonetheless also part of the explanation Braverman gave for her own departure. There may have been more to it. Perhaps she did not jump but was pushed.

But on any view how can it be that, only 6 days later, Braverman’s “mistake” and her failure to meet the “highest standards” were no longer an obstacle to her holding the high office of Home Secretary? It can hardly be said that she’d had time to atone for her error by some act of service or repentance.

In truth, of course, both Braverman’s resignation and reappointment were calculated political moves. Yet her return so soon has cast a shadow over Rishi Sunak’s commitment as Prime Minister to maintaining high standards of “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”. It has also raised questions about how far the Home Secretary can be trusted with the national security functions for which she is responsible, which certainly do require the highest standards in the handling of official information.

Assuming she doesn’t make another quick exit, what can we expect of Braverman’s tenure as Home Secretary? We know her “dream” and “obsession” is to see a plane transporting migrants to Rwanda. So far that policy has been thwarted in the courts and no-one has actually been sent. Braverman will no doubt be instructing officials to come up with ever more inventive ways of circumventing the legal obstacles.

More generally, she has said she wants to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. Many asylum and immigration decisions give rise to legal challenge – the Home Office faces more such challenges than any other government department – so Braverman may revive her previous calls (with Dominic Raab, now back in the cabinet as Justice Secretary) for judicial review to be reined in and for the courts to keep out of “policy”.

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Some of the most important legal constraints on the Home Office derive from the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We can expect plans for human rights reform to come back up the agenda under Braverman and Raab. But even Raab’s plans for a Bill of Rights Bill envisaged the UK remaining party to the ECHR, which has been government policy to date. Braverman, however, has repeatedly called for the UK to leave the convention, which would be a huge move.

Braverman has also taken a punchy approach to her relations with the police, saying there was a perception they had spent too much time on “symbolic gestures” rather than actually fighting criminals, which “must change”. In even more confrontational language, she has blamed public disorder on “the coalition of chaos, the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati”.

The Home Office is never a quiet place (I was legal adviser there under Theresa May). It’s not going to be any quieter under Braverman.

[See also: PMQs today: Rishi Sunak exposes his political vulnerabilities]

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