The most topical element of Suella Braverman’s post-dismissal letter is the claim that she would have run the Government’s small boats policy better than Rishi Sunak. And that he broke a promise to her that she would be empowered to do so.
We will see soon what the document to which her letter refers – in which this Prime Ministerial pledge was apparently spelt out – has to say for itself, since the former Home Secretary will doubtless ensure that its contents become public.
And we will be able to reach a view, even earlier, about the merits of her arguments on policy. The core of her case is that the Government should have prepared legislatively to set aside the effects of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act if necessary through notwithstanding clauses in its Illegal Migration Bill.
The Supreme Court is due to deliver its ruling on the Government’s Rwanda scheme today. We will be in a better position to judge how well or badly the Government has collectively prepared for a verdict either way when we know the precise terms of the judgement. In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that Braverman herself agreed to an alternative to those clauses.
Namely, amendments that allow the Government to disregard “interim measures” issued by the European Court of Human Rights. This raises three wider points about her letter, the first being an obvious one: namely, that if Sunak has “failed to deliver”, as her letter puts it, on key promises he made to her, and has been either incapable of or unwilling to keep them, why didn’t she resign?
For if this weak or lying Prime Minister, as she sees him, hadn’t sacked her on Monday, she would presumably still be in place at the Home Office, working with a man on whom no-one can apparently rely. The second point arises from the uncompromising language of her letter. Resignation and dismissal letters seldom pour oil on troubled waters. Braverman has opted for vitriol.
“Equivocation”…”disregard”…”lack of interest”…”your distinctive style of government”…”you have repeatedly and manifestly failed to deliver on every single one of these key policies”…”a betrayal of our agreement”…”a betrayal of your promises.”…”wishful thinking”…”irresponsibility”…”magical thinking”…”irresponsibility”…”no real intention of fulfilling your pledge to the British people…”
“Uncertain, weak and lacking in the qualities of leadership that this country needs.” The former Home Secretary says that Sunak needs to “change course”, presumably in order to win the next election. But the framing of letter could scarcely be more helpful to Sir Keir Starmer. She will know perfectly well that this is so. So one can only conclude that she doesn’t care.
Finally, Braverman concedes near the end of her letter that “I may not always have found the right words”. I suspect she knows that Conservative MPs are very unlikely, in the event of a leadership contest after an election, to put her candidacy forward to Party members. The right of the party is short of a prospective candidate around which it is likely to cohere.
The former Home Secretary is making the news this morning. It may be a while before she does so on the same scale again – if ever. To which she might reply, entirely correctly, that her letter isn’t, at heart, about her own ambitions. It’s about the future of the country. So as we wait for the Supreme Court, it’s worth mulling other matters she raises.
I would say that she is right on the biggest ones: getting levels of legal immigration down, and taking more decisive action against “racism, intimidation and terrorist glorification”. Sunak is poised to act on the second. He should do much, much more on the first. Henry Hill has set out some starters on this site. Whether a Prime Minister Braverman would have delivered what she urges is, of course, an unknown.
Some will be horrified by the terms of her letter. But I wonder if these might not actually turn out to be helpful – useful, anyway. For the rage, frustration and contempt of its terms are a foretaste of what is to come if the Conservatives lose the next election. Sunak will blame Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. She will blame both of them – Sunak especially, of course. As will Johnson.
Others will blame him. And Brexit. Others still will go back further, and blame David Cameron, now installed as Foreign Secretary, for apeing Tony Blair through his modernisation programme. Others yet will blame Dr No. The stages of bereavement are listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial wouldn’t last for very long in the circumstance I describe. Anger would last a lot, lot longer.
Goodness help the Kemi Badenoch or James Cleverly whose task it would be to survive the memoirs, serialisations, confessions and revelations that would rise from the last 14 years like a radioactive cloud. They would be forced to wait for it to fade, and then steer the Conservatives to happier times, or at least try to.
In Robert Graves’ Claudius the God, the Emperor comes to realise what he thinks is his greatest mistake. He believes that the Rome over which he rules is rotten to the heart and, by seeking to make it better, he has only prolonged its life. “My chief fault,” he says to himself, “I have been far too benevolent. I repaired the ruin my predecessors spread. I reconciled Rome and the world to monarchy again.”
Claudius concludes that since he can’t make Rome better, it’s best to make it worse, and so kill off its governing system altogether. “The frog-pool wanted a king. Jove sent them Old King Log. I have been as deaf and blind and wooden as a log. The frog-pool wanted a king. Let Jove now send them Young King Stork.” (In other words, Nero.)
“Yet I am, I must remember, Old King Log. I shall float inertly in the stagnant pool. Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” I flinch at the Emperor’s logic. No-one should welcome a Tory Young King Stork, whoever such a person might be. Or assume that the result of an election next year can be known now. But Claudius had a point. If there’s poison in the mud, best it hatch as soon as possible.
Braverman’s spleen is a product not just of disagreement and difference as the circumstances that helped to produce them: Covid, war, inflation, the long tail of Brexit. A Starmer Government would be no more likely to ride the turbulence than Labour governments of the 1970s rode those agonised times. Talking of which, there may be a few Young King Storks about, but there’s no shortage of Old King Logs, either.