Suella Braverman is under pressure to answer fresh questions about alleged “security breaches”, as a former head of parliament’s intelligence and security committee warned the row threatened to undermine officials’ confidence in sharing sensitive information with her.
The account given by the home secretary and backed up by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, when he defended reappointing her just six days after she was found to have broken the ministerial code were challenged by government insiders and a senior Conservative MP.
Sources told the Guardian that Braverman was confronted by the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, about the leaking of a sensitive document, rather than coming forward herself about what had happened. One said: “She only owned up to it when she was confronted with the evidence.”
A similar accusation was made by Jake Berry, the former Conservative party chairman, who said the issue was “really serious” and added: “As I understand it, the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence, rather than the other way round.”
The account appeared to contradict what Sunak said during his first prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
While justifying the reappointment of Braverman as home secretary just six days after her departure, he insisted: “She raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.”
The sensitive government information, which Berry said related to cybersecurity, was sent by Braverman using a private email address to a fellow Tory MP, John Hayes, and while trying to copy in Hayes’s wife, she mistakenly sent it to a staff member working for another backbencher, Andrew Percy, who informed the chief whip of the breach.
Case then spoke to the Home Office permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, and advised the then prime minister, Liz Truss, that the ministerial code had been broken.
On Thursday night the Sun reported that Braverman had leaked top secret plans to cut Britain’s deficit by £14bn with a new “growth visa”. A source told the paper: “Suella has tried to play down the scale of the cock-up but it was incendiary, market sensitive information.”
There are also questions over the version of events Braverman gave to officials, in which she claimed not to have had her government phone on her because she was taking part in a police operation.
Sources said the timestamp on the email showed it was sent several hours after the police raid. They added that at no point did Braverman notify Case of her mistake.
On Thursday, Downing Street defended Sunak’s version of events. “He said she had raised it, but we are not going to get into conversations and timelines around this. As we have said before, the home secretary made an error of judgment and took accountability for her actions.”
Asked if the prime minister’s words were accurate, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”
Case is understood not to be launching an investigation into Braverman’s resignation or whether her suitability to be reappointed as home secretary has been brought into question by the latest claims.
However, Sunak has been urged to appoint an ethics adviser by Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader. She said he had failed to fulfil his pledge to do so and added: “This farcical lack of scrutiny, transparency and accountability does diddly squat to deliver on the new prime minister’s promise to restore standards in public life after years of Tory sleaze and scandal.”
Braverman has not addressed the controversy since her resignation letter last week, in which she said: “As soon as I realised my mistake, I rapidly reported this on official channels, and informed the cabinet secretary.”
She admitted to a “technical infringement of the rules” but insisted much of the contents of the document she leaked “had already been briefed to MPs”.
Braverman also came under fire after the Daily Mail reported she was part of a leak inquiry that raised “concern” in MI5 when she was attorney general.
Several Tory MPs suggested they were not satisfied by the reassurance offered by ministers.
Mark Pritchard said MI5 needed confidence in the home secretary and any breakdown in that relationship was bad for the government and the security services. “It needs to be sorted ASAP,” he said. Caroline Nokes added that there were “big questions hanging over this whole issue”.
Dominic Grieve, the former chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee and an MP until 2019, said it was “frankly disgraceful” that Braverman had passed on secret material through “unauthorised channels”.
He told the Guardian it would “undermine” officials’ confidence to share further sensitive information with her, and “called into question” Sunak’s judgment, given that he reappointed her so quickly.
Opposition parties are seeking to maintain the pressure over the issue. Labour is pushing for any advice that Case gave on Braverman’s reappointment to be made public, with the shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones claiming that multiple “security breaches” warranted a better explanation from the government.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have written to Rycroft to urge him to ensure Braverman’s texts, WhatsApp messages and emails are handed over to the Cabinet Office.
Sunak was accused earlier this week of hatching a “grubby deal” to give Braverman her job back in exchange for her supporting his Tory leadership campaign.
However, the new prime minister said Braverman accepted she had made an error of judgment and he was “delighted to welcome her back into a united cabinet that brings experience and stability to the heart of government”.
Two sections of the code are thought to have been broken: one on the “security of government business” and another ensuring the internal processes that lead to a collective cabinet decision being made stay secret.
Nadhim Zahawi, the new Conservative party chair, disputed suggestions Braverman tried to cling on to her job when the breach arose and said he believed in “redemption”.