Why Rishi Sunak's reappointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary shows he has neither wisdom nor integrity - Euan McColm

Was it just a simple oversight? I’m not so sure.

On Friday morning, our latest Prime Minister Rishi Sunak released a short film on social media, showing him getting on with the job. There were shots of him locked in important discussions with various secretaries of state, a clip of him taking a call from US president Joe Biden, and various other segments showing him looking serious and focused.

But conspicuous by her absence from this naff little promo, even in the footage of Sunak chairing his first cabinet meeting, was home secretary and national security risk, Suella Braverman.

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I wonder whether, when they were editing together this Sunak short, his team decided that to include her might be to render their work out of date within days. After all, Braverman’s time in the Home Office must be running out.

Home secretary Suella Braverman leaves Downing Street after the first Cabinet meeting with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA WireHome secretary Suella Braverman leaves Downing Street after the first Cabinet meeting with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Home secretary Suella Braverman leaves Downing Street after the first Cabinet meeting with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

When he was anointed Prime Minister on Tuesday, Sunak stood at a podium on Downing Street and, solemn-faced, spoke of his commitment to tackling the “profound economic crisis” facing the United Kingdom.

Sunak told us he appreciated how hard things were and, for a man with a £730 million fortune, managed to sound surprisingly sincere while doing so. He recognised he’d have to work hard to restore trust “after all that has happened” and pledged to put the needs of voters “above politics”.

In fairness to Sunak, his speech struck all the right notes in terms of tone and content. It was a far cry from the defiant address made by his predecessor Liz Truss just a couple of hours earlier when she departed Downing Street, having set fire to the economy during her brief and entirely regrettable time in charge.

But getting the tone and content right is easy. Or, at least, it should be; any politician who can’t perform some approximation of empathy won’t last long. More difficult is wisdom and integrity. These are things that cannot be faked.

And when Sunak appointed Braverman as his home secretary later on Tuesday, he showed he has neither.

It simply cannot be argued it was wise to put in charge of gravely important matters of national security a woman who had been sacked as home secretary just six days earlier for using a private email account to send confidential documents to a backbench MP.

It would be bad enough were this an isolated incident, but a number of Westminster sources say the contrary is true. Former Conservative Party chairman Jake Berry popped up on TV to say that, to his knowledge, Braverman had breached the ministerial code on multiple occasions. Of course, it might have have been helpful of Berry to speak up earlier, but better late than never, I suppose.

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The line from Number 10 – for now, at least – is that Sunak believes Braverman deserves a second chance, which brings me to the matter of integrity.

Of course, forgiveness and compassion are fine qualities, but they do not figure in Sunak’s decision making. Rather, the Prime Minister agreed to have Braverman back as the price for her support – and the support of others on the Tory right – in the party’s leadership election. The Prime Minister has imposed on the UK a home secretary who had demonstrated, just days before, her unfitness for the position in order to fulfil his personal ambition.

And once we understand that, the tone and content of his inaugural Downing Street address to the nation becomes that bit less impressive. Did he use the words he did because he believed them or because he believed they were in his best interests?

Either way, Sunak has undermined his premiership by sticking Braverman in his Cabinet. At best, she is a target for opposition politicians who will not stop pointing out that she – and I can barely believe this requires repetition – used a personal email to forward confidential Home Office documents while home secretary. At worst – and, let’s face it, she has quite the track record – she will do something else that breaks the ministerial code and, potentially, undermines national security.

It is difficult to look at this situation and not conclude Sunak has enthusiastically put party before country. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. The Conservatives are in a deep existential crisis and their new leader has to do something to keep his party’s right onside. We should not be surprised if Sunak decides to go low as PM, pandering to the worst instincts of right-wing voters in the hope that’s enough to get him over the line in some southern constituencies.

When it becomes clear to Sunak that Braverman, with her sadistic dreams of seeing immigrants being flown to Rwanda, is a liability, he will have to get rid. And that will hurt him, too. He won’t get credit for doing the right thing. He’ll, quite rightly, face questions about the lack of judgement that saw him bring her back into government in the first place.

During the long contest to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, the Sunak camp’s version of events was their man was safe and steady while Liz Truss was reckless and even downright dangerous.

That wasn’t enough to persuade Conservative Party members who blithely inflicted Truss on the country.

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What that awful decision achieved, however, was to enhance Sunak’s reputation. Even the Tories’ opponents were happy to concede he would have been the better choice.

This, thin though it was, represented something upon which Sunak might have built. Instead, he came into Downing Street, and promptly made a decision that shows him to be either weak or foolish or – worse – both.



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