As the latest British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his new Cabinet, the name that attracted the most comment was that of Suella Braverman, 42, the Home Secretary. Only a week earlier, as Home Secretary in the government of former Prime Minister Liz Truss, Ms. Braverman was forced to resign for a breach of ministerial rules with security implications. She had tried to send a highly sensitive official document — draft immigration proposals shared with her by Downing Street — from her personal email ID.
According to members of the Opposition, this was deeply problematic on multiple grounds: first, switching to personal email represented a security breach; secondly, the attempt to share it with individuals not authorised to view it constituted a ‘leak’ of what was then an official secret; third, since the leaked proposals had to do with changes in immigration rules, her act had the potential to affect the market-sensitive growth forecasts of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR); last and Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this breach is for whom she broke the ministerial code: arch Conservative John Hayes, who is also the chair of the Common Sense Group (CSG), a influential lobbying group of rightwing Tories devoted to waging a cultural war against woke politics.
Numerous media reports have cited party sources to claim that Ms. Braverman doesn’t make major decisions without consulting Mr. Hayes, who is known to be her mentor. This might explain why she wanted to share the document — which reportedly contained proposals for a more liberalised immigration policy — with Mr. Hayes. The political implications are damaging, as they suggest that one of the senior–most members of Mr. Sunak’s government might be in thrall to the extreme right of the Conservative party — the very faction instrumental in foisting the disastrous Truss premiership upon the country. Understandably, Opposition MPs have questioned Mr. Sunak’s decision, asking why he did not refer her breach of ministerial code to an ethics adviser. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has described Mr. Sunak’s appointment of Ms. Braverman as “a grubby deal”, implying that Mr. Sunak had traded ethics for rightwing support.
Indeed, as fellow members of the CSG and the European Research Group (ERG), a caucus of Eurosceptic Tories set up with the singular purpose of accomplishing Brexit, the political positions of Ms. Braverman and Mr. Hayes are almost identical, lending credence to fears that she would serve as a powerful lever of influence in the government for the rightwing faction. And as Home Secretary, her decisions would concern issues that are sensitive and divisive: immigration, LGBT rights, welfare, crime, etc.
Born to Indian-origin parents who emigrated to the U.K. from Africa in the 1960s, Ms. Braverman has been active in the Conservative party right from her days as a Cambridge undergraduate. A barrister with a Masters degree in European and French law, she cut her teeth campaigning for her mother, who was a Conservative candidate in the 2001 general election and a by-election in 2003. After being elected an MP from Farehum in 2015, she campaigned to leave the EU during the Brexit referendum. Despite being from a family of immigrants, she is a hardliner against immigration, vowing to reduce the annual inflow into the U.K. to “tens of thousands” — it is 239,000 at present. She is a strong supporter of the Rwanda plan, under which asylum seekers could be forcibly packed off to Rwanda. She once proclaimed at a party conference, “I would love to have a front page of the Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda… That’s my dream, it’s my obsession.”
During her previous stint as Home Secretary in the Truss Cabinet, Ms. Braverman’s virulent anti-immigrant stance briefly threatened to derail the India-U.K. Free Trade Agreement when she expressed an apprehension that the deal could increase migration from India to the U.K. in a scenario where Indians already constitute the largest group of visa overstayers. “I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” she said, causing anger in India and consternation among U.K. trade officials.
Ms. Braverman endorses longer prison terms for peaceful climate activists, wants cuts in welfare spends because the country has far too many people who are fit to work but don’t, and believes schools should stop being accommodating towards trans students — the last, a position at odds with the LGBTQ-friendly stance of Mr. Sunak. With people in different parts of the Commonwealth busy celebrating the coronation of a brown man as British Prime Minister, it may be a while before they start pondering why this brown PM has appointed a brown anti-immigrant Home Secretary who not only believes that “the British empire was a force for the good” but also describes herself as being “proud of the British empire”.