It is only days into Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government and even before the honeymoon period could begin, there is a storm brewing. There is an economic crisis, and a boiling political crisis is Northern Ireland but the most immediate storm he needs to calm is within his own Cabinet. And, at the centre of that storm, is none other than the highly controversial Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Sunak’s decision to reappoint Indian-origin Braverman only six days after she was forced to resign for a security breach is facing fresh questions from the Opposition and from within Sunak’s Conservative Party.
Suella’s Infamous Information Breach Record
Former chairman of the Conservative Party, Jake Berry has claimed Braverman as Home Secretary in the Liz Truss government was responsible for “multiple breaches of the ministerial code.”
The 'really serious breach' was when she sent confidential information to a private address, sending it to fellow MP and confidante Sir John Hayes, attempting to send it to the MP’s wife and then accidentally sending it to a member of parliamentary staff.
Berry has claimed that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had been consulted who ruled that it had broken the rules, despite which Sunak went ahead and appointed her. He defended the appointment when questioned by Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, by saying, Braverman had made an “error of judgment” and had recognised her mistake, adding: “That’s why I was delighted to welcome her back into a united cabinet that brings experience and stability to the heart of government.”
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said Berry’s intervention was “extraordinary” and “very serious”, and highlighted Berry’s comments about “cybersecurity breaches”.
Following the Prime Minister's Questions(PMQs) on Wednesday, Braverman left the Commons to avoid an urgent question granted to Labour. Labour MP Chris Bryant, tweeted: “One of the Nolan Principles which is embedded in the ministerial code is accountability. How is it accountable to flee the chamber to avoid answering questions about your own resignation and security breach @SuellaBraverman?”
Braverman cannot seem to stay out of controversy. In her short term as Home Secretary in the Truss government, Braverman’s hardline approach on multiple issues, including Indians being the largest population overstaying their visa which is believed to have angered India and temporarily scuppered the Free Trade Agreement with the country, hit the headlines.
Can Braverman Be Cleared of British Security Concerns?
The Empire-loving, with a dream to see a plane full of illegal immigrants being sent to Rwanda, wanting to pull UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Braverman is facing more allegations. The Mail, on Thursday, revealed that Braverman was probed by the government officials during an inquiry into the leak of a sensitive story involving Britain’s security services earlier this year, when she was Attorney General in Boris Johnson’s government.
According to The Mail report, the leak "related to a story about the Government’s plan to apply for an injunction against the BBC to stop it from identifying a spy who was accused of using his position to terrorise his former partner." The story said, it was Braverman who sought the injunction.
“It is understood that the leak about her plans caused ‘concern’ to the Security Service, MI5. An investigation was launched by the Government Security Group, a unit within the Cabinet Office. As the leak involved an issue of national security, it is understood that MI5 also had a role in the inquiry,” claims The Mail.
According to the report, the investigation ultimately found no ‘conclusive evidence’ of who the leaker was. This new disclosure is posing further questions for No 10 and its decision to reappoint her as Home Secretary, a position which has all security clearances.
Suella’s Top Post in Lizz Truss Govt Raised Eyebrows
Braverman was promoted to Home Secretary by the then Prime Minister Liz Truss, this September. At that moment, she became responsible for overseeing the work of the Security Service. One of the most sensitive jobs in the government, the Home Secretary is responsible for signing off surveillance warrants and other highly classified functions of Britain’s spy agencies, as well as for UK’s counter-terrorism policy.
Braverman’s reappointment is creating further mayhem as she is facing a backlash from the civil servants also. Not only was the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case ‘livid’ at her reappointment, the First Division Association (FDA), which represents senior civil servants, said the move showed "political expediency" when any civil servant acting in the same way would have lost their security clearance. They said the "clear signal" was that ministers could act with impunity and called for a new ethics adviser.
UK Home Secretary Is Controversy’s Favourite Child
Braverman’s history of controversy dates back to her Cambridge University days. In May 2000, Braverman was accused of trying to buy a student’s vote when standing for the Cambridge University Conservative Association chair.
The question is why did Sunak bring her back to the Home Office within six days of her being forced to resign? What are the political pressures that pushed him to make such a controversial decision?
Braverman is a favourite among the extreme right-wing of the Party and is the member of the European Research Group (ERG) comprising of highly influential hard right-wing Brexiteers.
Does Suella’s Hardline Politics Cement Sunak’s Post?
During Sunak’s first PMQs Starmer, said that a deal had been struck to shore up support from hard-right MPs who support Braverman. “He’s so weak, he’s done a grubby deal trading national security because he was scared to lose another leadership election,” Starmer said.
Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke once likened the Tory right-wingers to crocodiles “who lurk around the Conservative boat. Successive leaders have fed them buns to keep them happy,” but “the trouble comes when you run out of buns”, he has been quoted saying.
Like Johnson and Truss, Sunak too seems to have fallen into the same trap and made the same mistake by bringing Braverman in. Many within the Tories believe he needed her support to reach the threshold numbers.
Sunak’s 'One Nation' tone in his first address to the nation sounds hollow with the appointment of an extreme hardliner, and divisive politician, like Braverman. It clearly shows Sunak is weaker than it appears and needs to keep his Party’s right-wingers happy.
‘Party Over Nation’, Can Sunak Justify Suella’s Return?
Despite the Prime Minister’s defence, Braverman did not simply make 'a mistake' but acted with intent when she ‘deliberately’ sent cabinet papers on immigration to her private email and then to Hayes, a very strong right-wing backbencher.
The furious row that followed with the discovery of this breach, between Truss and Braverman was because the policy in question had yet to be agreed upon. It finally led to Braverman’s resignation. According to a columnist, “Braverman had for weeks, been consulting Hayes as an unofficial adviser, as part of a shadow policy team that she appears to have been running outside the Home Office.”
It was clear her loyalty was not with Truss. Can she suddenly become loyal to Sunak now. While Sunak is being cheered for appointing a broad-church cabinet to balance Conservatives' traditions and prioritise national 'stability and confidence', bringing back Braverman shows that Sunak has put party before nation. Many Tory MPs are upset and are demanding Sunak resolve this issue urgently.
Conservative MP and former member of the Intelligence and Security. Committee warned in a tweet: “MI5 need to have confidence in the home secretary – whoever that might be. It’s a vital relationship of trust, key to the UK’s security and democratic oversight of MI5. Any breakdown in that relationship is bad for the security service and the government. It needs to be sorted asap.”
It is time for Sunak to realise that the controversies surrounding Braverman will not go away and we could potentially be looking at criminality. At a time of national crisis, Sunak needs to prioritise once again. He can ill-afford a Braverman controversy to stay in office.
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)