Suella Braverman dares Rishi Sunak with provocative rhetoric

Suella Braverman, Britain’s populist home secretary, has long been suspected by some Conservative MPs of wanting to get sacked so she can pursue her leadership ambitions unburdened by high office.

On Thursday, Rishi Sunak was under pressure from Tory MPs to oblige after Braverman went rogue in an op-ed, writing a fierce attack on London’s Metropolitan Police without first clearing it with Downing Street.

“She has put two fingers up to the prime minister,” said one former cabinet minister, referring to Braverman’s Times article, which claimed the Met were operating a “double standard” in policing demonstrations.

“I assume she’s trying to get sacked and I hope she succeeds,” they added.

Braverman claimed the police were allowing what she labelled a pro-Palestinian “hate march” to go ahead on Saturday while historically being much tougher on rightwing protests. Downing Street refused to endorse the inflammatory remarks. A minister close to Sunak said: “She’s toast.”

Aides and ministers close to Sunak believe he will sack Braverman in a forthcoming reshuffle, possibly after the Supreme Court rules next week on the legality of her flagship policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

A pro-Palestinian protester from the Free Palestine Coalition holds a sign referring to comments made by Home Secretary Suella Braverman
A protester during a pro-Palestine demonstration. Downing Street insiders noted that few Tory MPs have been prepared to defend Braverman in recent days © Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images

For Braverman, an exit from government could be akin to jumping from a sinking ship: a YouGov poll on Thursday put the Tories 24 points behind the Labour opposition.

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The home secretary has given the impression of constantly trying her luck. At the Tory conference she referred to mass migration as a “hurricane”. This month she claimed rough sleepers were making “a lifestyle choice”.

It is that kind of provocative talk that has made Braverman one of the frontrunners to succeed Sunak if, as many Tory MPs grimly believe, the party is defeated in a general election expected next year.

Tory MP Miriam Cates said on the social media site X: “Suella Braverman’s views may be distasteful to Westminster liberals but they’re utterly mainstream in rest of UK.”

Braverman was born to parents of Indian origin, her mother from Mauritius her father from Kenya, both of whom moved to Britain in the 1960s.

She lived in France for two years, studying under the EU Erasmus scheme, but later went on to become a staunch Brexiter who resigned from Theresa May’s cabinet in 2018 over disagreements on the draft Brexit deal.

Braverman became a barrister in 2005, where she worked on government litigation on immigration among other things. She became Tory MP for Fareham in 2015 and has been ruffling feathers ever since.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said her counterpart was “deliberately inflaming community tensions in the most dangerous way. It is highly irresponsible and dangerous. No other home secretary would ever have done this.”

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Police negotiating with the Bike ride in support of Gaza Sunbirds, a Gaza para-cycling team, at the Pro-Palestinian protest in Trafalgar Square
Police negotiating with demonstrators at the Pro-Palestinian protest in Trafalgar Square. Braverman claimed the police were allowing what she labelled a pro-Palestinian ‘hate march’ to go ahead on Saturday © Bjanka Kadic/Alamy

Braverman also caused outrage in her op-ed by comparing the pro-Palestinian protests to sectarian marches in Northern Ireland.

Colum Eastwood, an MP and leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour party, said: “She has managed to offend just about everyone — no mean feat in a divided society.”

But Braverman has been useful to Sunak in the past, deploying the kind of language on migration and crime that resonates in the rightwing press and with some target voters, but which he is reluctant to use himself.

Sunak made Braverman his home secretary when he became Tory leader in October 2022, even though she had been forced to resign only days earlier after breaching ministerial rules by sending an official document to a fellow MP using her personal email.

The remarkably swift political resurrection was seen as the price of Braverman offering Sunak her support in the Tory leadership contest, although relations between the two have become increasingly scratchy.

Braverman’s time as home secretary has been marked by her efforts to stop the flow of migrants across the English Channel in small boats, including pursuing her “dream” of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

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A returns agreement with Albania has helped to cut the number of migrant crossings by about a fifth this year and Braverman has told colleagues she is confident the Supreme Court will rule her Rwanda policy is legal.

But Braverman has not “stopped the boats” — one of Sunak’s five key pledges — and many Tory MPs believe that she does not have a solid record of delivery in office on which to base a future leadership run.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman during a visit to the north eastern Greek border with Turkey in Alexandroupolis
Braverman has been useful to Sunak in the past, deploying the kind of language on migration and crime that resonates in the rightwing press and with some target voters © Stefan Rousseau/PA

One current minister said: “I don’t see how she can win the leadership without having delivered. I’m sure some on the right of the party are signed up to her world view, but aren’t necessarily signed up to her personally.”

Downing Street insiders noted with some relish that few Tory MPs have been prepared to defend Braverman in recent days, emboldening those in Number 10 who think Sunak should sack her.

A regular “cabinet league table” compiled by the ConservativeHome activists’ website puts Braverman fifth, behind James Cleverly, foreign secretary, Kemi Badenoch, trade secretary, Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons, and Johnny Mercer, veterans’ minister.

The fact that her incendiary rhetoric has not moved her higher up the rankings may reflect growing nervousness in the party that she is damaging the Conservative party’s standing among liberal-minded voters.

Nickie Aiken, the Tory deputy chair, criticised Braverman for getting involved in policing operations. “It’s very important that police do policing and politicians do politics,” she said.

One former minister said: “She’s divisive and is toxifying the party’s good record on law and order.”