Home Office accused of breaching Ministerial Code after ‘dangerous’ defence of Suella Braverman video

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Suella Braverman refused to apologise to a Holocaust survivor who said the Home Secretary’s description of migrants reminded her of language used by the Nazis to justify murdering Jewish people.

The Home Office has been accused of breaching the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code after defending Home Secretary Suella Braverman on its official social media account.

Braverman sparked mass outrage over comments she made to 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Joan Salter, who confronted the Fareham MP at a constituency event on Friday (13 January). In footage of the exchange provided by charity Freedom From Torture, Ms Salter said: “I am a child survivor of the Holocaust. In 1943, I was forced to flee my birthplace in Belgium and went across war-torn Europe and dangerous seas until I finally was able to come to the UK in 1947.

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“When I hear you using words against refugees like ‘swarms’ and an ‘invasion’, I am reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others. Why do you find the need to use that kind of language?”

But while the Home Secretary said she shared “concern and sympathy” about the challenge of “illegal migration”, she refused to apologise, remarking: “I won’t apologise for the language that I’ve used to demonstrate the scale of the problem”.

This response in itself sparked huge backlash, with social media users branding Braverman’s comments “grotesque”, “utterly shameful”, and “disgraceful”. But the Home Office’s intervention has also been called into question.

Suella Braverman has been slammed over comments she made to a Holocaust survivor during a constituency meeting in Fareham. Credit: PASuella Braverman has been slammed over comments she made to a Holocaust survivor during a constituency meeting in Fareham. Credit: PA
Suella Braverman has been slammed over comments she made to a Holocaust survivor during a constituency meeting in Fareham. Credit: PA | PA

In an official statement, the Home Office wrote on Twitter: “Footage of a conversation with a Holocaust survivor is circulating online. The video has been heavily edited and doesn’t reflect the full exchange. The home secretary listened carefully to the testimony. She thanked her for sharing her story.

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“The home secretary also expressed her sympathy and set out why it is important to tackle illegal migration. Since the footage misrepresents the interaction about a sensitive area of policy, we have asked the organisation who posted the video to take it down.”

Critics have argued however that by defending comments made by an MP within a constituency setting, the Home Office has broken the impartiality clauses in the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code.

Andrew Neilson, a former civil service press officer, said: “I used to be a civil service press officer. Since when did departmental accounts cover for ministers fouling their own lawns?”

Meanwhile, former legal director of the Good Law Project, Gemma Abbott, commented: “What should be the consequences of this misuse of Home Office Twitter for Suella Braverman’s own political ends? Using state resources for party political purposes has been a feature of this Tory Government but with no apparent consequence. Another failure of our ‘good chaps’ code?”

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Others claimed the comment “dangerously” blurs lines should have been tweeted on the Conservative Party’s Twitter, while one user called the intervention “an abuse of power, and a misuse of the Civil Service”. Barrister Sam Fowles added: “This is a Civil Service Twitter account apparently being used to mount a political defence of the Home Secretary. It’s the sane government that claims to champion #FreedomOfSpeech (when it’s used to attack those they don’t like) using the power of the state to silence critics.”

When asked about the critiques, a spokesperson for the Home Office told NationalWorld: “It is completely appropriate for the Home Office to comment on matters of policy which the department leads on. The edited video misrepresented the Home Secretary’s exchange on a matter of active policy and we have challenged it to have the Home Secretary’s broader answer reflected.”

But what do the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code say?

In Section 8.4 of the Ministerial Code, in relation to ministers’ capacity to give speeches and make public comments, it reads: “Ministers must only use official machinery, including social media, for distributing texts of speeches relating to Government business. Speeches made in a party political context should not be distributed via official machinery.

Likewise, under the political impartiality section of the Civil Service Code, it says: “You must not: act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes.”

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This is not the first time Braverman has been slammed for her rhetoric on immigration. She previously faced backlash for saying it was her “dream” and “obsession” to see a flight of asylum seekers take off for Rwanda, and has also been criticised by refugee charities for referring to asylum seekers as illegal immigrants.

Ms Salter is also not the first to point to the problematic and “dehumanising” nature of language such as “invasion” and “swarms”.

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