Revealed: Suella Braverman sets Home Office ‘No boats crossing the Channel’ target

UK’s new home secretary upsets civil servants with speech on migrants, trashy TV and back-to-office call

The new home secretary has already prompted consternation among Home Office officials after telling them she wants to ban all small boats crossing the Channel, the Observer has learned.

During her inaugural address to departmental staff last Wednesday, Suella Braverman said a top priority would be stopping all Channel crossings. She has also asked all staff to watch “trashy TV” to help their “mental wellbeing”, a source said, specifically citing Channel 4’s Married at First Sight and First Dates as well as Love Island.

The latest series of the ITV2 show drew thousands of complaints about alleged misogynistic behaviour. Last month, the charity Women’s Aid highlighted issues including bullying and coercive control.

Sources familiar with Braverman’s address revealed she told them: “It’s important for people to look after their wellbeing. Best antidote [for work-related stress] is trashy TV.”

Britain’s new home secretary Suella Braverman.
Britain’s new home secretary Suella Braverman. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

Regarding boat crossings, immigration experts say it is practically impossible to halt them as long as the government refuses to offer sufficient alternative safe routes to the UK. Last weekend alone saw another 45 boats arriving in the UK carrying 2,120 asylum seekers, with 8,000 individuals crossing during August, the highest monthly total on record.

“Suggesting she can stop all boat crossings is pie in the sky – it doesn’t bode well,” said a civil service source.

Ending the arrival of small boats was a key objective of Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel, with the issue becoming one of political humiliation as each attempt to tackle the crisis led to an increasing number of crossings.

During her address last week, Braverman – who is expected to adopt an even more hardline agenda than Patel – also prompted widespread discontent from thousands of Home Office staff by challenging their working practices.

By telling them to go back into the office, the home secretary reignited the controversy caused by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has previously ordered civil servants to return to their desks to ensure government offices are at “full capacity”.

Sources added that Braverman, the former attorney general, told them that she wanted “people turning up and being in the office, [I’m a] big fan of in-person working and team collaboration. I want to see people face to face”.

Her intervention did not go down well with the PCS union, which represents civil servants including 14,000 Home Office and Border Force staff.

The PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said the latest home secretary needed to learn and listen from experienced staff instead of imposing her ideals on the workforce.

He said: “Ordering our members back to the office shows a complete lack of awareness and understanding of what Home Office staff have been doing for the past two and a half years. Most staff in Border Force and the passport office have been in the workplace regularly since the start of the pandemic and throughout the countrywide lockdowns.

“For those staff who adapted to work from home, because the Home Office needed them to do it during the pandemic, they have been working efficiently and productively at home and have been hybrid working between the office and home for months. To now imply this arrangement is no good, without any understanding, is not a good start for the new home secretary.

“Our members, not her, are the ones with the expertise here. She would be better advised listening to them about ways of working and to see how they can best implement her policies. One of the ways she could get people onside would be to stop the government’s planned 91,000 civil service job cuts and the office closures that will have a massive negative impact on the Home Office.”

During her speech, Braverman outlined other priorities including tackling antisocial behaviour, domestic violence, reducing murder rates and “making streets safer”. She also committed to continue Boris Johnson’s key pledge to put 20,000 new police officers on the streets, with the government about half-way to delivering on the target by 2023.

However, it is dealing with small-boat crossings that sources say will likely define her tenure as home secretary, much as it did with Patel. “Stop people dying and being at the mercy of people smugglers. We need to take a firm stance,” she told staff.

A Home Office source said Braverman addressed her new colleagues in a short speech to set out her priorities and added that roles where it was appropriate had the option of flexible working.


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

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