How long can Sunak swerve the obvious on Braverman’s speeding? | John Crace

The home secretary clearly broke the ministerial code. But there she still is, refusing to engage with reality

We’re a long way past the point where we need to ask what exactly Suella Braverman has on Rishi Sunak. Has she somehow got hold of a recording of a telephone call in which Dominic Raab thanks the prime minister for joining him on one of his regular nocturnal killing sprees? Has she got hold of a video of Rish! telling Goldman Sachs clients how best to avoid paying tax? Or is there CCTV footage of Sunak snorting coke and leading the singing at the Abba party during lockdown? Whatever it is, it must be weapons-grade kompromat.

It’s the only thing that makes sense. Why else is she still in her job? Indeed, why was she even made home secretary in the first place? When Rish! got the top job he made a point of saying he was going to be different from what had come before. He was going to govern with “integrity, professionalism and accountability”. So what’s the first thing he did? Appoint Suella to one of the four big offices of state just six days after she had been fired for breaking the ministerial code by leaking government policy via her private email.

Since then, Braverman has done her best to live down to her reputation for untrustworthiness and incompetence. She is – by a long way – one of the stupidest home secretaries we’ve had for many years. Which is saying something. I guess Sunak has learned to live with breaking international law over the small boats policy and the casual racism of suggesting all grooming gangs were Asian. After all, he is “far-right curious”. He gets a vicarious, sexual thrill out of Suella’s bigotry and hatred. Makes him feel just the slightest bit bigger. But the thing is, she’s all mouth. She’s achieved nothing. Immigration has gone up to record levels on her watch.

Now we’ve come to Suella’s latest indiscretion. It was only a matter of time. Someone that dim and that arrogant was bound to fuck up again sooner rather than later. Having been caught for speeding – it’s getting to be a Home Office habit: Robert Jenrick is serving a six-month ban – Braverman tried to get her civil servants to see if she could have her own private speed awareness course that no one would ever know about. And her special adviser then lied to the press about it four times. Her civil servants were more concerned about the ministerial code than she was. They told her where to get off and reported her to their bosses.

And yet Sunak has done nothing. Even though several senior civil servants, including Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, have observed Suella’s actions are a clear breach of the ministerial code – a mixing of the personal and public – Rish! has dithered and delayed. Saying he wanted to avail himself of more information.

Like what, for instance? Does he think that if she was only 5mph above the speed limit, then the offence doesn’t really count? Or that all civil servants have the lawyer Nick “Mr Loophole” Freeman on speed dial? He can’t even bring himself to ask his own ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus, to conduct his own inquiry. Just in case he concludes what is already blindingly obvious to everyone else.

It may not be the most egregious breach of the ministerial code. Certainly not by Braverman’s usual gung-ho standards. But she still broke the code. Integrity, professionalism and accountability. Just words. The same old stuff from a tired administration that doesn’t even recognise how it has managed to corrupt itself.

Normally, Suella tries to ride out her uselessness and wrongdoing by going to ground. Hiding from the public. Not a good look. On Monday, this wasn’t an option and she had an afternoon appointment in the Commons with Home Office questions. Something that she couldn’t avoid.

So she chose to break the ice with a quick, 90-second pooled TV clip. She was delivering on the people’s priorities, she insisted. She really wasn’t. Just wait till she sees the immigration figures on Thursday. And she was convinced that “nothing untoward” had happened. Really? Then why did she keep it so quiet? Even the weaselly “Honest Bob” Jenrick had fessed up. Do the crime, take the time. And if there was nothing to hide, then welcome an inquiry. Bring it on.

There was more of the same in the Commons later in the afternoon. Starting with Tory Paul Howell complimenting her on “driving” the antisocial behaviour initiative. He blushed as he realised his choice of words could have been better. Then Labour got stuck in. Emma Lewell-Buck, Sarah Jones and Yvette Cooper all asked the same question. Speeding was a serious offence. A major cause of death. This was not trivial. So what instructions had Braverman given to her civil servants to try to get her own customised sanctions?

By now, Suella was beginning to sound like a broken record. Like a diehard recidivist saying “no comment” in a police interview when everyone knows she’s guilty. “I regret speeding,” she mumbled, refusing to look anyone in the eye. “But I took the points, so I didn’t try to avoid a sanction.” Which wasn’t strictly true. A speeding awareness course is not a negotiation. Part of the penalty is taking it with other people so you can learn from their mistakes. It’s not the bespoke service Braverman was trying to organise for herself. So much for being a home secretary on the people’s side.

Suella also noticeably, time and again, refused to answer the central point: what she had and hadn’t said to civil servants. She couldn’t have appeared more shifty if she had tried. A lack of engagement with reality that was almost pathological. She ended each outburst with a word salad about how it was all just another smear to detract from how she was delivering for the people. Amazing how often these smears crop up when she’s the one who has broken the rules.

Just before the end of the session, Sunak appeared in readiness to make his statement on the G7 in Japan. He gave Braverman a tentative tap on the shoulder, but thereafter tried to create distance between them. An awkward encounter. Rish! looked confused. As if he knew he ought to be doing something but was just too scared. He can’t even stop her making rival leadership speeches at fringe Conservative conferences. All he can manage is less than full support.

Sooner or later – maybe even tomorrow – he is going to have to grow some. Otherwise he will be just blown away. Just more jetsam from the sinking Tory boat.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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