“It is a stroke of luck to be born British,” Suella Braverman declared in her maiden speech, delivered on 1st June 2015.
This sentiment was expressed in more memorable language by Cecil Rhodes: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”
When interviewed in May this year by Paul Goodman and myself for ConHome, Braverman said:
“My background is one that is ferociously proud of Britain, Britain’s history, Britain’s welcome. My parents were born under the British Empire. They came to this country with a huge fondness for the British Empire.
“What Britain brought to their countries, Mauritius and Kenya and India where we have our origins, was remarkable. And I get very saddened by this apology and shame, promulgated by the Left and commenced by the collective guilt that started under Tony Blair, that is pervading our society.”
Her parents’ pride in the British Empire is something which makes Braverman herself, and a number of other Cabinet ministers with family origins in the empire, incomprehensible to all those in this country who, without in most cases knowing much about it, regard the imperial past as a matter for automatic shame, apology and guilt.
Britain was seen by many immigrants, including Braverman’s parents, as a land of opportunity, a wonderful and in many ways familiar place where they and their children could better themselves by working hard, taking education seriously and obeying the rules.
For Britain was synonymous with the rule of law. Parliament, it was generally accepted, made the laws, and an incorruptible judiciary enforced them.
Braverman, who on 6th September became Home Secretary, cannot be understood without bearing in mind this deep-seated and to progressive eyes intolerably old-fashioned patriotism, which renders her sympathetic to national rather than universal ways of doing things.
The Government is riven by a deep disagreement about immigration, itself an aspect of the growth agenda which has since Kwasi Kwarteng’s statement last Friday caused such spectacular ructions.
On one side stand the Prime Minister and the Treasury, which has long maintained that immigration is good for growth.
On the other stand those like Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and Jacob Rees-Mogg who are on the Right of the party, put Truss in as leader, and expect the pledge in the 2019 manifesto to rely on “far fewer low-skilled migrants” and get “overall migration down” to be honoured.
Truss will have to give these supporters something, and must also guard against a resurgence by Nigel Farage, Richard Tice or some new leader of that kind – a danger currently obscured by Labour’s rise in the polls.
Will Tanner, who worked for Theresa May and Nick Timothy when they were trying to restrict immigration, on Tuesday of this week fired on ConHome “a warning shot across the bows to Liz Truss on relaxing immigration rules”.
Alp Mehmet wrote yesterday on this site that the “Treasury orthodoxy” according to which low-paid immigrants boost growth “is on the verge of triumphing yet again, and to hell with the consequences.”
For Braverman, and other Conservatives like her, this is not just an argument about economics, but about what kind of a country this is.
The debate about illegal migration – the Channel boats – raises in acute form the question of who makes our laws. In a trenchant speech at Policy Exchange on 10th August, repeated in shortened form on ConHome, Braverman, at that point still Attorney General, said:
“Conservatism contends that human rights are ‘inherited’ as opposed to ‘natural’, and tradition is the tool to ground the abstract in the concrete.
“This philosophy is encapsulated in the most fundamental principle of our Constitution: Parliamentary Sovereignty. It is a principle of constitutional law and political fact, which intwined with democracy, allows the British people to fully and directly participate in their own government.”
She said the European Court of Human Rights, whose remit had originally been limited to recognising rights which the British had long enjoyed and well knew how to uphold, was now operating “to thwart aspects of our domestic policy making in relation to illegal migration”, and made clear that for her, this was an intolerable state of affairs.
We should be able, if we wish, to send illegal migrants to Ruanda, and the argument about whether or not this is the right thing to do should be held in our Parliament. In a recent piece for The House magazine, Braverman declared:
“Leaving the ECHR is the only solution which solves the problem, and is entirely consistent with international law. It puts us in good company – with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.”
The focus on illegal migration has to some extent distracted attention from the very high level of legal migration, which Braverman is determined, in line with the manifesto commitment, to reduce.
She takes the view that we should be training and equipping British workers, not undercutting them by importing cheap labour from abroad. To this end, she would like to restrict almost all immigration.
As one of Braverman’s closest political friends yesterday told ConHome:
“She sees immigration as not merely an economic matter but a social and cultural one too. She appreciates that immigration is clearly linked to population growth, and therefore to pressure on infrastructure, housing and quality of life.
“She is an authentic conservative who understands the critical importance of social cohesion and social solidarity.”
Braverman’s boldness can be traced to the absence of doubt which she feels about the benefits of being British. Not for her the sense, conspicuous since the French Revolution in modish circles on this side of the Channel, that the way things are done on the Continent must be superior to the way they are done here.
This sense of inferiority made it easy to abandon British ways of upholding freedom, and replace them with the supposedly superior methods employed in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Brexit was the great counterblast to that way of thinking, and Braverman was a staunch Brexiteer, who chaired the European Research Group from June 2017 to January 2018, when Theresa May made her Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
In November 2018, Braverman resigned from the Government in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, after which she voted three times against May’s Brexit deal.
She came back into Government in February 2020, when Boris Johnson appointed her Attorney General in succession to Geoffrey Cox. In this role she refused to go with the progressive flow, for example applying to the Appeal Court to have the law clarified after the Colston statue case had gone in the defendants’ favour, the judge having directed the jury to weigh whether a conviction would be compatible with the defendants’ exercise of their human rights.
The Appeal Court has just ruled in the then Attorney General’s favour.
So at the age of 42, the new Home Secretary may be forgiven for thinking that it is more than feasible to push back against the Blairite doctrine that universal human rights trump other considerations – a doctrine favourable to unrestricted immigration.
When she stood this summer for the leadership of the party, Braverman’s parliamentary supporters included David Jones, Sir John Hayes, Steve Baker, Miriam Cates, Sir Bernard Jenkin and Danny Kruger.
Once Braverman had been knocked out, in the second ballot, she and most of her followers switched to Truss, the eventual victor.
In her maiden speech after her election in 2015 as MP for Fareham, already cited at the start of this profile, Braverman touched on her family history:
“On a cold February morning in 1968, a young man, not yet 21, stepped off a plane at Heathrow airport, nervously folding away his one-way ticket from Kenya.
“He had no family, no friends and was clutching only his most valuable possession, his British passport. His homeland was in political turmoil. Kenya had kicked him out for being British. My father never returned.
“He made his life here in Britain, starting on the shop floor of a paint factory. My mother, recruited by the NHS in Mauritius as a girl of 18, passed her 45th year of service last year.
“My family had nothing but hopes and dedication. They were so proud to be British and so proud to make our country even better.
“If I succeed in making some small contribution during my time in this place, it will reflect only a fraction of my gratitude to this country for the abundance of education, culture and traditions that have made Britain great, for the tolerance and fellowship of the British people, and for the opportunity and liberty that we all enjoy.”
It is hard to imagine an MP whose family had lived for many generations in Britain speaking in quite those terms.
Braverman’s mother, Uma Fernandes, served for 16 years as a Conservative councillor in Brent, where Peter Golds, also a Conservative councillor there, recalled in an interview with ConHome giving Suella Fernandes, as she then was, her first lessons in canvassing.
She went to a state primary school, after which her parents sent her to the independent Heathwood School in Pinner.
Her life changed, she has said, when she got 13 A*s in her GCSEs and realised she could go far. She read law at Cambridge and the Sorbonne and became a barrister.
In 2005 she contested Leicester East, then firmly in the hands of Keith Vaz, and in 2012 she stood for the London Assembly, but was not elected.
After her election in 2015 for Fareham, between Southampton and Portsmouth, she wrote a letter of thanks to Peter Golds:
“I will always remember that you were the first person to take me out canvassing in Brent North, a bastion of Sir Rhodes Boyson, and taught me how to do it!”
Braverman has shown, along with her boldness, the humility to learn from various Conservative politicians, and to be mentored by them.
In 2018 she got married to Rael Braverman, with whom she has since had two children, taking maternity leave from the role of Attorney General after the birth of the second.
And now she is Home Secretary, not at this instant the most exposed position in the Government, but certainly one where her trenchant ideas about what it means to be British could have wide consequences.