Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks with his ethics adviser Monday on whether Home Secretary Suella Braverman violated the ministerial code over her handling of a speeding ticket last year, a scandal that threatens to exacerbate fast-growing splits in the governing Conservative Party.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Braverman asked civil servants to help arrange a private driving-awareness course to prevent her speeding violation becoming public knowledge, a potential violation of ministerial rules against using public employees for personal affairs.
“Where issues like this are raised, they should be dealt with properly and they should be dealt with professionally,” Sunak said in the House of Commons on Monday. “I’ve asked for further information and I’ll update on the appropriate course of action in due course.”
It comes at a sensitive time for Sunak, who arrived back from Group of Seven talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine to a domestic flap about one of his most controversial appointments. Braverman, an advocate of cutting back immigration, is also at the center of Tory finger-pointing over data due this week expected to show migrant numbers are soaring.
For her allies that makes the timing of reports about her speeding ticket more than a coincidence, and fits a narrative building on the Tory right wing that the civil service — and even Sunak himself — is working against their agenda.
“In my view nothing untoward has happened,” Braverman told Sky News. Speaking later in the House of Commons, she repeatedly refused to answer whether she had instructed a civil servant to intervene on her behalf, saying only that she regrets speeding and took the penalty on her license.
Sunak sidestepped a question about whether he still backed Braverman during a news briefing before departing Japan. But on his return to London he spoke to ethics adviser Laurie Magnus about her case. Pressure is building on him to take action, including from Tories. Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called for a full inquiry.
“You don’t try and pull strings and seek favors because of your connections to try and cover it up,” Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of Parliament’s influential defense committee, told TalkTV. “There’s less sympathy for the home secretary because we are just beginning to return to normality after a turbulent year in Conservative politics.”
It’s all very awkward for Sunak, who made his own statement to Parliament about the G-7 summit immediately after Braverman’s appearance in the House of Commons. It’s barely a month since his No. 2, Dominic Raab, resigned as deputy prime minister over an inquiry that found he engaged in aggressive and intimidating behavior toward civil servants.
The premier, who promised to restore government integrity and professionalism when he took power in October following months of turmoil under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, has already lost three cabinet members to scandal.
Yet his appointment of Braverman drew criticism, coming just days after she was fired by Truss for breaching security rules. When the Truss administration imploded, it was Braverman’s backing for Sunak that effectively ended Johnson’s own bid for an unlikely comeback, and Sunak reappointed Braverman as home secretary in one of his first acts in office.
It means any mistake or controversy surrounding Braverman will always allow Sunak’s critics to label it a self-inflicted wound. And when the home secretary appeared to lash out at her own government’s performance on immigration in a speech last week, there were immediate questions about who has the upper hand — and whether Braverman herself is now seeking the leadership.
Braverman appeared to be getting ahead of the news, with the government bracing for the release of migration figures Thursday that are widely expected to confirm a record surge of arrivals last year.
During his wrap-up news conference at the G-7 on Sunday, Sunak appeared frustrated when Braverman was the first topic that came up. “Do you have any questions about the summit?” he asked a reporter.
--With assistance from Joe Mayes, Emily Ashton and Philip Aldrick.
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