Thursday, 22 February 2024

Suella Braverman endured a bruising day, but many Tories say she won't last much longer Rishi Sunak

Suella Braverman endured a bruising day, but many Tories say she won't last much longer Rishi Sunak
Thursday, 09 November 2023 21:48

The Home Secretary was largely cut off from the world as the drama she ignited the previous evening played out in a spectacular public style.

It began when Rishi Sunak celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights traditionally marked with lavish fireworks.

At 10:30 PM, Downing Street phones started ringing as The Times published an article by Ms. Braverman in which she criticized the actions of the capital's police at recent pro-Palestine marches, accusing the forces of "playing favorites" with protesters.

The column sent shockwaves through the corridors of power. While the Prime Minister and his team knew that Ms. Braverman was writing an article for the newspaper, the final version was much more incendiary than what had been cleared with the Home Office.

In less than 40 minutes, as officials at Downing Street were still reeling and trying to figure out what had happened, people close to the Home Secretary began informing broadcasters that the op-ed had been "viewed" by Number 10 before publication.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs had already begun to react with hostility, particularly to the part of the article in which Ms. Braverman compared the recent pro-Palestinian demonstration to marches in Northern Ireland.

As it became increasingly clear that something was amiss, Number 10's press team started answering reporters' questions about whether they had signed off on the article.

Mr. Sunak and his team went to bed that evening knowing that a major scandal was brewing and that their media line of not commenting on "internal processes" wouldn't hold for long.

"Encouraging" the Prime Minister to sack her By morning, Tory anger was simmering again, and an extraordinary series of claims and counterclaims ensued between Number 10 and the Home Office.

Initially, the Home Office said Number 10 had seen the material, implying it had been signed off by Mr. Sunak. Then Number 10 sources told journalists this was misleading.

The Home Office then acknowledged that Number 10 had made changes, but only included some of them. Other Number 10 insiders insisted they hadn't signed the document and that the changes that had been ignored were "not insignificant."

Close allies of Mr. Sunak accused Braverman's team of lying in their briefings, which suggested Downing Street had input into the final version.

But Braverman's supporters called the noise a fuss about process and insisted the public was on her side, both in terms of her assessment of the protests as "hate marches" and her criticism of the police response.

One wing of the party, including moderates and Sunak supporters, was so incensed by the tone of the article that they began calling for her dismissal.

One former cabinet minister said she should be fired "because she is incompetent," while another said she was "egging on" the Prime Minister to sack her.

The anger extended to the very top. A cabinet minister told The Telegraph, "She has lost her temper," and said Ms. Braverman "seriously riled the Prime Minister."

Statements were "extremely regrettable" Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary and a Sunak supporter, was the unfortunate minister sent out to answer questions about the article. Significantly, he distanced himself from the remarks, suggesting they were not government policy. Senior police officers also began expressing concerns that, by writing the article, the Home Secretary was attempting to push the Metropolitan Police into a tougher stance on a planned pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day.

Sir Tom Windsor, the former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that her comments "run contrary to the spirit of a long-standing constitutional understanding with the police" and that her remarks "are a matter of great regret."

Meanwhile, Chris Philp, the Policing Minister at the Home Office, was hauled into the Commons by Labour, where he emphasized the operational independence of the police but claimed not to know how the article had come to be.

As opposition benches peppered him with hostile questions, it was noteworthy that only two Conservative MPs – former cabinet ministers Sir Mike Ellis and Theresa Villiers – spoke in support of Ms. Braverman.

Up to that point, Number 10 had kept largely monastic silence as the debate raged. But at 11:30 AM, as the press gallery next door in Number 9 was filled with journalists for the daily briefing in the atrium, dodging the issue was no longer an option.

"Does the Prime Minister still have confidence in the Home Secretary?" was the first question asked of the official spokesperson for Mr. Sunak.

"Yes," he replied.

"Was the article signed off by Downing Street?" quickly followed. He stated that it "was not cleared by Number 10."

He added that officials would "investigate what happened" and answered repeated questions about whether Ms. Braverman would be subject to an investigation for a potential breach of the ministerial code by publishing an unsanctioned column.

By this time, Simon Hart, the Chief Whip, was inundated with calls and messages from Conservative MPs who were incensed by the article. Among those expressing their anger were even more moderate figures, described as "unusual suspects."

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