Suella Braverman has said little in public since she was reinstated as home secretary on Tuesday. Her return to a great office of state, just six days after a security breach, has reignited an internal Tory row over propriety and political direction that could destabilise Rishi Sunak’s premiership. But the MP for Fareham, usually at her happiest when using media publicity to anger liberals and enthuse the hard right, has kept quiet, avoiding microphones, cameras and two urgent questions in the House of Commons.
On Wednesday there was no mention of the “tofu-eating wokerati” she has previously blamed for Just Stop Oil protests, and no reference to her “dream” of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Instead, as Braverman silently slipped out of the chamber to avoid taking part in a debate discussing whether she was fit for a return to office, she was taunted by Labour MPs. “Where are you going? Come back!” said the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry.
The reason for Braverman’s unusual silence is obvious – she has been front-page news for several days. “Leaky Su”, as she has been nicknamed by the tabloids and her Conservative frenemies, was forced to quit as home secretary under the premiership of Liz Truss for leaking secret immigration plans while in charge of the nation’s security.
That was on Tuesday last week. Now she is back, and the row over her behaviour and reinstatement has been the one obvious blight on Sunak’s new premiership.
Four Conservative MPs and a former home secretary have so far raised concerns over the security implications of having a home secretary who cannot keep secrets. Jake Berry, the Conservative party chair under Truss, claimed Braverman was responsible for “multiple breaches of the ministerial code” and confirmed that the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, had been deeply worried.
Crucially, the reappointment appears to fly in the face of Sunak’s pledge on the steps of No 10 to ensure integrity in government.
According to new details that emerged this week, Braverman sent a confidential paper outlining proposed changes to immigration plans from her official email address to her private one, presumably in an effort to hide the email trail. The documents contained plans to cut the UK’s deficit by £14bn through the introduction of “growth visas”, allowing thousands of professionals from abroad to come to the UK to work in unfilled posts.
The Sun reported that the document had been drawn up after a row between Braverman and Truss over whether to open up new visa routes to encourage growth. Braverman wants overall immigration cut to tens of thousands. But Truss and Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, argued that they must allow in thousands more highly skilled IT professionals and scientists if they were to kickstart the economy.
Braverman used her private email address to send the government’s plans to Sir John Hayes, her long-term confidant in the European Research Group and the Common Sense Group of MPs.
She then attempted to send a copy to Hayes’ wife, a parliamentary staff member, but mistakenly sent it to a parliamentary aide of another Conservative MP, government sources said.
The involvement of Hayes, a forthright former minister who holds anti-libertarian views on immigration, abortion and criminal justice, particularly angered Truss’s team, party sources said.
Yet last weekend Sunak held lengthy conversations with Braverman as he sought her support for his candidacy to become Tory leader. On Sunday afternoon, Braverman had an article published in the Telegraph offering him her support – a signal to other rightwingers that through her, their voices would be heard in the new administration.
Sunak’s supporters have brushed away claims that her reappointment proves he was beholden to the party’s hard right. On Friday, the prime minister said: “I’m confident she’s learned from her mistake.”
Friends say Braverman – born Sue-Ellen Cassiana Fernandes in Harrow, north-west London – owes her political ambition to her parents, Christie Fernandes, a Kenyan of Christian Goan origin, and Uma Fernandes, a Mauritian of Indian origin. Their only child, she was doted on by both parents, who were hugely ambitious for her, according to friends. The couple joined the Conservative party in the 1980s. Uma worked in the NHS for 45 years and stood successfully to become a Conservative councillor.
Braverman won a partial scholarship to attend Heathfield private school before studying law at Queens’ College, Cambridge. She gained a master’s degree in law from the Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris and then qualified as a New York attorney.
She was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 2005 while also contesting Leicester East in that year’s general election, losing out to Labour’s Keith Vaz.
Braverman won her current seat, in Fareham, Hampshire, in 2015. She and Hayes became friends during the run-up to the 2015 election and have remained close allies since.
In February 2018, she married Rael Braverman, a manager at Mercedes, in the House of Commons. They had their first child in 2019 and a second in 2021. The family live near to her parents, who often babysit.
Her rise since entering government as a junior minister in January 2018 has been exponential. In February 2020, she succeeded Geoffrey Cox as attorney general. She was first appointed as home secretary in September by Truss, after losing out in the leadership contest.
Her return to the Home Office has already been rocky: the permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, has been asked to oversee her security, government sources said. Calls for her to resign are expected to continue.
The senior civil servants’ union has noted that some of its members have been forced to step down after previous leak claims, and said ministers such as Braverman should not be exceptions to rules or the law.
Dave Penman, the head of the FDA, said: “Any civil servant who had knowingly shared confidential government information, as the home secretary is alleged to have done, would face gross misconduct charges and in all likelihood dismissal. This is not theoretical - civil servants have been sacked for deliberately sharing confidential government documents. There rightly should be no exceptions when it comes to national security.”