Suella Braverman will stay on as home secretary, for now, because weak Rishi Sunak sees a rival whose knack for controversy proves invaluable.
The prime minister confirmed today (May 24) that after 72hours of deliberation the matter over Braverman’s speeding fine is resolved.
In a touching exchange of letters between the PM and home secretary, Braverman penned her regret over her handling of the situation, namely getting civil servants involved in a personal matter which is a breach of the ministerial code.
Over three pages, Braverman explained it was all a misunderstanding. She paid the fine and took the speeding points. It was enough for Sunak who, in his much briefer reply, said his ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus “advised that on this occasion further investigation is not necessary and I have accepted that advice. On the basis of your letter and our discussion, my decision is that these matters do not amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code.”
All well and good then. Except it’s not, for neither Sunak nor Braverman for whom dust never settles.
No sooner had the latest cloud been kicked up over the speeding incident – about which veteran former senior civil servant Sir Philip Rycroft said showed a “real lapse of judgment” by the home secretary – Braverman faced fresh accusations. This time that she breached the ministerial code of conduct over her relations with Rwanda (specifically her undeclared ties to a company training lawyers in the African state).
Next it emerged that civil servants have to fact-check her statements to cabinet because she repeatedly gets things wrong. An insider quoted by the Guardian said she made “basic errors” and another that she “keeps getting facts wrong” to the extent that the Cabinet Office has had to ask officials at the Home Office to “factcheck” the home secretaries claims.
All that is just since Sunday. Braverman has a track record of incompetence and repeated failings are many. It raises many questions, not least about the PM’s own judgement, about why Sunak keeps her in charge of one of the highest offices of state, and why he reappointed her just six days after Liz Truss sacked her for breaching the ministerial code?
Braverman – ‘Rishi’s resident shit sponge’
Braverman is championed by the (even further) right wing of the most right-wing Tory party in modern history. She’s a former chair of the European Research Group (ERG) and now even more beloved after their former darling, business secretary Kemi Badenoch peed all over the promised bonfire of EU regulations by watering down the Retained EU Law Bill.
Badenoch’s slip has bolstered Braverman’s standing as the chief culture-war warrior for the right. A less complimentary opinion of the home secretary, coming from an unnamed cabinet colleague quoted by the Telegraph, is that Braverman is “Rishi’s resident shit sponge”.
It’s possibly a reference to the 2021 film of the same name in which a “budding hotel manager must evict one of the world’s most notoriously volatile party girls”.
Or a tersorium, used by Roman’s for anal cleansing.
It’s more likely the latter, and not just because of Tories’ love of classicism or because, by definition, a tersorium won’t flush, just like Braverman who is still floating despite all the controversy.
(While many would suggest she’s more shit-stirrer than shit-sponge, Braverman is proving to be such an effective tersorium for Sunak that water companies might look to her as a means of cleaning up the country’s rivers and beaches.)
Sunak could easily have dispensed of the home secretary by now. He’s had plenty of opportunity but tomorrow’s release of the net migration figures – set to be hugely uncomfortable for the government – is just one reason as to why he hasn’t quite fully pulled the chain on his home secretary yet.
Braverman’s contempt for refugees, asylum seekers and “others” is well documented. It’s why she’s so supported by the far right. And exactly why she’ll appear to be the perfect person to get (legal) migration numbers down when they are shown to be at new record levels tomorrow.
It’s a risk for Sunak to keep her. His own position as leader of a disgruntled and increasingly desperate-to-cling-to-power party has never been fully assured and has been further weakened by the disastrous local election results.
For many, the PM needs the home secretary close, not just to take the flak for and lead the government’s controversial policies (on policing, protests, strikes, migration, etc, etc), but also because of the threat Braverman could pose to him. As well as the distraction she offers.
Because, amazingly, given all of the above (and so much more written elsewhere), Braverman is a strong contender to become leader of the Tory party. Johnson managed it and so did Truss so it’s not at all impossible never mind unthinkable that Braverman could be next in No 10.
As shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry told BBC Radio 4’s World at One this afternoon: “We take it as read that the home secretary Suella Braverman is not fit for her job, either as home secretary or as attorney general. We have known that for months. And it is extraordinary that this woman is in charge of public security, immigration, policing and I just think it’s yet another example of his [Sunak’s] weakness that he can’t get rid of her.”
Thornberry was on air to talk about the speeding issue and said Sunak should sack her not just because of that, but because “she is incompetent and I think she is more interested in becoming the next leader of the Conservative party than she is in actually looking after her brief.”
But Sunak won’t, Thornberry added, because – as stated in a briefing put out by one of Braverman’s friends – “if she was sacked she would spend her time machine-gunning him from the backbenches”.
Sunak’s not the first PM to know it’s far better to have a rival inside government mopping up the shit that happens, rather than outside throwing it in.