How do you solve a problem like Suella?

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Suella Braverman is under severe pressure to resign as her story falls apart and a pattern of behaviour emerges. Sadie Parker spells out why she must, must go…

If Rodgers and Hammerstein were invited to write about the political soap opera of British politics this past few weeks, they might be tempted to re-write the lyrics to one of their most famous songs for The Sound of Music to suit Suella Braverman.

How do you solve a problem like Suella?

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

How do you find a word that means ‘Suella’?

An anti-growth bigot! A leaker of secrets! A clown!

Like the nuns in the musical, Rishi Sunak has been very forgiving. Responding to criticism about re-appointing Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, one of the four great offices of state, only 6 days after she had been forced to resign for a security breach, he told Sky News:

“The Home Secretary has acknowledged she made a mistake, she’s recognised she made a mistake, she’s taken accountability for that, and that’s the right thing. Now, as I said in parliament earlier this week, she raised this topic with me when I discussed reappointing her as Home Secretary and I’m confident that she has learnt from her mistake.”

Senior cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Party Chair Nadhim Zahawi, were sent into TV studios and radio stations across the capital to defend her. Zahawi spun a narrative about believing in “rehabilitation and second chances”, as well he might. After all, the electorate gave him a second chance after he was found to be putting heating bills for his stables through his parliamentary expenses. Lesser MPs and client Tory pundits like the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce have tried to down-play the breach, saying it was merely a “technical” breach and the document in question was soon to be released.

Setting the substantive elements of the Braverman defence aside for one moment – that she owned up to it, the breach was merely a technicality and there was no harm in leaking the document as it was soon to be released anyway – should we believe the prime minister, his ministers and assorted Tory MPs? We have good reason to be sceptical.

Remember them all lining up to defend Dominic Cummings’ Durham dash and Barnard Castle baloney? Cummings has given a fulsome apology, they claimed, so no further action is required. He only did what any father would do, they snorted, at once trivialising the breaches and patronising every parent who had obeyed the rules. Lefties have broken the rules too, they crowed, and then they cited examples of people who, unlike Cummings, had all resigned and disappeared from public view.

This same sordid behaviour was on display over PartyGate. Johnson’s story morphed from flat denials at the dispatch box in the House of Commons that he had been at any parties to a special form of amnesia which meant he had been unable to discern that he was at a party. If there’s only wine and cheese, it’s not a party, it’s a work event, Tory MPs prevaricated. Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns claimed that we could not blame Johnson for breaking his own rules, because he was ambushed by a cake. Other Tory MPs tried to persuade us to turn a blind eye to it all with “oh, but they work so hard” blandishments, as if the rest of us don’t.

If the current prime minister, his party and client media are now, as it appears, trying to pull off another dark arts propaganda coup to keep Suella Braverman in place, does it matter? To decide that, we have to understand what Suella Braverman did, and its gravity. This is where it gets interesting, because nothing she has said so far stacks up, and new evidence is emerging daily suggesting a pattern of rule-breaking rather than a one-off inadvertent mistake.

The problem came to light when an aide working for Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, forwarded to him an email she had received from Suella Braverman, for which she did not have security clearance, and which bizarrely had come from Ms Braverman’s personal Gmail rather than her parliamentary email account. Percy did the only thing he could do, and forwarded it to then Chief Whip Wendy Morton, and had the courtesy to inform Braverman of what he had done. What happened after that is disputed.

According to Braverman, she reported herself to Cabinet Office Secretary Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant. She had sent the email at 4.00 am by mistake. No biggie. These things happen, especially when you are sleep-deprived.

But various Downing Street insiders have come forward to say it was Case who contacted and confronted Braverman, and informed then prime minister Liz Truss that it was a clear-cut breach of the ministerial code on two counts. Whoever picked up on the fact that Braverman had lied about the timing of the email is unclear: it was sent later than she claimed, at 7.25 am, so the “wee small hours of the morning” plank of her defence immediately fell away. The follow-up email she sent to the wrong recipient asking her to delete and ignore the email is time-stamped 10.02 am.

While Braverman made a mistake by sending it to Andrew Percy’s aide, the intended recipient, the wife of MP Sir John Hayes, who works in his office, also did not have the requisite security clearance to receive it. Nor, indeed, did Hayes himself. The fact that Braverman forwarded the email from her work account to her personal account suggests pre-meditation to share an embargoed document with unauthorised persons.

The “it was going to be released anyway” excuse also goes the way of the wind, as Braverman’s actions led to the policy being junked. Not that such a justification is ever an excuse. Social media has been flooded by people from various walks of life explaining that if they ever disobeyed an injunction not to release sensitive information before time, they would be fired on the spot for aggravated gross negligence, with no chance of a comeback.

It gets worse. Apparently, Hayes, an über-right-wing, hard-line Brexiter, is Braverman’s mentor. She won’t do anything without consulting him first, which suggests she is not up to the job of Home Secretary. Braverman regularly forwards documents to him, or, to give “sending government information, data and documents to unauthorised persons” its technical term, leaks to him.

On a recent News Agents Podcast, Sir Edward Davey revealed that Braverman is famous for leaking and is known in Whitehall as “Leaky Sue”, which surely begs another musical interlude, to the tune of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”:

Leaky Sue, Leaky Sue,

Petty, petty, petty, petty, Leaky Sue

Oh, my Leaky, my Leaky Sue

Oh, well, E-R-G gal, I needed you, Leaky Sue…

Former Party Chair Sir Jake Berry confirmed to Kate McCann and Harry Cole on Talk TV that there have been multiple breaches of the ministerial code by Braverman, including leaking documents on cyber security, and that in this particular instance it was Case who approached her rather than the other way round.

It gets worse still. Matt Dathan revealed to Tom Newton Dunn on Talk TV that Braverman’s leaks are a pattern of behaviour going back to her time as Attorney General (2020-2022). MI5 will be giving her a security briefing as to how to avoid these situations in the future, which is remarkable considering she has already had this briefing twice: once when she became Attorney General, and then again as Home Secretary. It beggars belief that, in her role as Home Secretary, she oversees MI5! What’s more, it has emerged that Braverman has already been the subject of various MI5 investigations in the past. Can we possibly feel safe with a Home Secretary who takes such a cavalier attitude to national security protocols?

There is one final twist to this tale. The document Braverman leaked to Andrew Percy’s staffer and Hayes was about a “growth visa” which the then prime minister Liz Truss wished to introduce as part of her multi-pronged strategy to stimulate the sluggish UK economy. Braverman opposed the concept because it meant allowing in more scientists, engineers, sportspeople, and other highly skilled workers the UK has need of. The leak, then, was designed to deliberately sabotage government economic and immigration strategy. This is disloyalty on a colossal scale.

Braverman believes in a Cameron-style numerical approach to immigration (which never worked), setting meaningless and often unachievable targets. She champions the Rwanda policy, which is extraordinarily expensive, has not proved effective as a deterrent to small boat channel crossings and does not reduce overall migrant numbers, as it is an exchange programme rather than net deportation (we take in “vulnerable” refugees from Rwanda). At the recent Conservatives Party annual conference, she told Telegraph journalist Christopher Hope that she dreamed of having a front-page story of a plane taking off for Rwanda, packed full of asylum seekers. She is the Cruella de Vil of immigration, refusing to acknowledge the benefits migration affords the UK (which outweigh the downsides). Instead, she is happy to see the dehumanising of asylum seekers in particular – despite her own father having been one –  and their illegal incarceration in unfit facilities where they catch diseases we once thought we’d conquered in this country, like diphtheria and scabies.

The document at the centre of the current Braverman leak also included information about the £6 billion estimated impact of the growth visa on Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts. This is market-sensitive information. Anybody getting hold of that before it was published would have an unfair advantage and could make a profit in the stock market at the expense of other participants. It does not matter that the policy was abandoned; Braverman had no way of knowing that it would be. On top of the Home Secretary’s lack of regard for rules to protect our national security and disloyalty to her own government, it is extraordinary that she was facilitating criminal behaviour.

There may still be some reading this who wonder: so what? Security and intelligence are among the UK’s leading competitive advantages, and a money-spinner for the economy. Reputational risk is the biggest threat to this type of activity, and Braverman has just trashed that reputation. Not only will that impact our ability to “sell” these services to other countries, but it will also mean that our security and intelligence services in any case become less effective, as countries cut us out of the information-sharing loop for fear of what a careless home secretary might leak. Who knew Braverman was such an ardent member of the anti-growth coalition?

Revelations that Russia hacked Liz Truss’s personal mobile phone when she was foreign secretary and that it was covered up by Boris Johnson and Simon Case to avoid her losing the Tory leadership contest only serve to throw into stark relief the gravity of Braverman’s repeated breaches of the ministerial code. Indeed, Johnson is at the root of the Braverman problem in that he over-promoted an inexperienced junior barrister who was not a “silk” (Queen’s Counsel (QC) then, King’s Counsel (KC) now) in her own right to the role of Attorney General, the government’s lawyer and head of the Bar. She was quite possibly the worst Attorney General in Britain’s history. Then, with only 9 months’ experience as a junior minister (in 2018), Liz Truss over-promoted her again, this time to the office of Home Secretary, and Rishi Sunak compounded the error by re-appointing her. (Tory prime ministers need to stop the bad habit of promoting to cabinet anyone who throws their hat in the ring to become party leader, but that is a topic for another article…)

If Braverman had a shred of honour, dignity or respect for our country, she would resign. She has none. Case, who should also be considering his position, has refused to re-open the investigation into Braverman’s multiple breaches of the ministerial code. However, the powerful Public Administration and Parliamentary Affairs select committee will investigate whether Rishi Sunak overruled Case in re-appointing Braverman as Home Secretary. That is something, at least. Given the gravity and frequency of Braverman’s repeated leaks, there should be a much wider enquiry, possibly even a public enquiry.

If your constituency has a Tory MP, and you are concerned about having a Home Secretary who is so obviously unfit for office, then write to them and let them know.