Suella Braverman article: what did Home Secretary say about police & Northern Ireland? Will she lose her job?
Rishi Sunak has “full confidence” in Suella Braverman, his spokesman said, although Downing Street did not sign off the controversial opinion piece.
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Suella Braverman’s job as Home Secretary is on the line again after she penned a bombshell article criticising the police.
Rishi Sunak has “full confidence” in her as Home Secretary, his spokesman said, although Downing Street did not sign off the controversial opinion piece. Experts have said this could break the ministerial code, which requires Cabinet Ministers to get No10 approval for media appearances.
No10 has said it is “looking into what happened” over the op-ed in the Times, which accused the Met Police of being biassed. This is not the first time Braverman has been in hot water over the ministerial code, as she had to resign from Liz Truss’ government for sending a sensitive document to a confidant outside the Home Office from her personal email.
What did Suella Braverman say in the article about the Met Police and Northern Ireland?
Braverman accused the Met Police of bias after the London force said that it would allow a pro-Palestine march to take place in London on Armistice Day (November 11). The Home Secretary said that the police force was "playing favourites" by not blocking the march arranged by so-called "pro-Palestinian mobs".
She claimed that the Met Police had blocked right-wing protests in the past while allowing the pro-Palestine march to go ahead.
Writing in The Times, Braverman said: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza. They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”
She added: “Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law? I have spoken to serving and former police officers who have noted this double standard.
“Football fans are even more vocal about the tough way they are policed as compared to politically connected minority groups favoured by the left. It may be that senior officers are more concerned with how much flak they are likely to get than whether this perceived unfairness alienates the majority. The government has a duty to take a broader view.”
Why are these comments on the police and Northern Ireland controversial?
There are three aspects to the piece which are highly controversial. The first is accusing the Met Police of bias and appearing to try and influence its policing. The police are supposed to be operationally independent from government - the government sets the laws and the police enforces them. Here Braverman, the Home Secretary who oversees policing, appears to be telling Scotland Yard how to police.
The former chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor said these comments “crosses the line” by breaking the convention that a Home Secretary should not question the operational integrity of the police. He told: “It’s unusual. It’s unprecedented. It’s contrary to the spirit of the ancient constitutional settlement with the police, I think it’s contrary to the letter of that constitutional settlement. And it is highly regrettable that it has been made.
“These political objections can be made by many, many people, but a Home Secretary of all people is not the person to do this.” He added: “By applying pressure to the commissioner of the Met in this way I think that crosses the line.”
Policing Minister Chris Philp told MPs today: “It is … right that the police are operationally independent of government. That is a fundamental principle of British policing as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday.” He claimed that Braverman was raising concerns about policing, which he said was “reasonable”.
The second is the comparison with Northern Ireland. It appears that Braverman is making a reference to the Orange Order marches which are carried out by unionists - a position supported by the government.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for the removal of Braverman from her position, saying she was “deliberately stoking division” in Northern Ireland. He said: “The Home Secretary’s comments in an article in The Times today are so far removed from reality that it is impossible to come to any determination other than she is deliberately stoking division to bolster her own brand among the Conservative Party’s right wing.
“It’s honestly like reading a pound shop Enoch Powell piece. The comments comparing the proposed Armistice Day protests against the appalling bombardment of civilians in Gaza with the marching tradition in Northern Ireland are an exercise in what can only be described as aggressive ignorance; ignorance of the conditions faced by the civilian population in Gaza, ignorance of the role of the Met police, ignorance of the complex history and traditions of marching and protest in Northern Ireland.”
While former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain commented: “Why on earth is this gratuitously offensive Home Secretary meddling in Northern Ireland affairs with her ignorant attack on Orange Order marches by traditional unionists? She should stick to her day job and stop her scatter gun headline-grabbing attacks on all and sundry.”
There are also fears that the Home Secretary’s comments could make the march on Saturday more dangerous, and more likely to turn violent. The I has reported that police are fearful that far-right groups and football hooligans may attend the march under the guise of defending the Cenotaph, causing unrest.
What has the government said?
Twice a day, while Parliament is sitting, the government holds a briefing with journalists to answer questions on a variety of subjects. This morning (9 November) the focus was Braverman, and there were some astonishing revelations.
The first question asked was whether Rishi Sunak still has “full confidence” in Braverman, and the Prime Minister’s spokesman confirmed that he did. Following that, he revealed that Braverman’s bombshell article was not cleared by No10 - as is required under the ministerial code.
He said No10 was “looking into what happened with the article” and that there would be an update in due course. There were a series of questions about Braverman’s future, and whether the Prime Minister agreed with her comments - however his spokesman merely said that Sunak had already set out his thoughts on the matter (the implication being that he did not agree).
He added: “The Prime Minister continues to believe that the police will operate without fear or favour." When questioned further by journalists about potentially inflammatory comments, the spokesman said "it's important [for ministers] to consider their language carefully."
And he declined to say whether Sunak and Braverman had a good working relationship, instead replying: “They continue to work closely together.”
Analysis: will Suella Braverman get fired?
Given the revelation that the Home Secretary did not get full clearance from Number 10 before publishing the article, it is hard to see how she survives with her job intact. This is not the first time she has been accused of going rogue and freelancing with policy.
Only earlier in the week, Sunak refused to repeat her comments that rough sleeping was sometimes a “lifestyle choice” - and details of Braverman’s apparent crackdown on the homeless was noticeably absent from the King’s Speech. He also declined to repeat Braverman’s comments last year about illegal migration being an “invasion”.
It appears as if the Home Secretary is preparing for a leadership challenge, if the Conservatives lose the next election, and is trying to appeal to her right-wing base of MPs and party members. The Tories have spent the last week criticising Labour over Starmer failing to control his frontbench on Gaza. However if Sunak allows Braverman to stay, that makes a mockery of all those comments and shows him to be weak.
Her article has also taken all the attention and pressure off Starmer and Labour, and heaped it back on Sunak. It’s surely only a matter now of when and not if Braverman gets fired.