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Rishi Sunak Urged To Rebuke Suella Braverman Over Email Accusing Civil Servants Of Blocking Small Boats Plans

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak is under pressure to rebuke Home Secretary Suella Braverman after an email sent to Conservative party members in her name accused civil servants of obstructing the government's bid to tackle small boats crossings.

Braverman has been urged to apologise after an email sent by CCHQ to Tory party members on Tuesday described civil servants as being in an "activist blob" alongside "left-wing lawyers" and Keir Starmer's Labour Party.

David Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents civil servants, wrote to Sunak today saying the email was "extraordinary" and demanded that Braverman say sorry to Home Office officials. 

"As you and the Home Secretary are well aware, civil servants advise and ministers decide. Once a decision is made, civil servants are tasked with carrying out the settled will of government," Penman wrote to the PM. 

"Not only is this statement factually incorrect, but the tone of that paragraph and the brigading of civil servants with the Labour Party and “left-wing lawyers” is a direct attack on the integrity and impartiality of the thousands of civil servants who loyally serve the Home Secretary, doing some of the most complex and difficult work in government."

Penman accused Braverman of breaching paragraph 5.1 of the Ministerial Code, which states ministers "must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service". 

“I cannot see how the Home Secretary’s statement to Conservative Party members can be reconciled with her obligations under the code," he said in his letter to Sunak. 

The Prime Minister's press secretary has insisted that Braverman did not "see, sign off or sanction" the email. Barverman's name appeared in the "sender" section of the email.

They said that "usually" a minister would sign off emails sent in their name, suggesting that in this case the protocol was not followed.

A Conservative party spokesperson said: "This was a CCHQ email and the wording wasn’t seen by the Home Secretary. We are now reviewing our internal clearance processes."

The email from CCHQ to Tory party members, as well as those subscribing to updates from the Conservative party, followed the announcement of government plans to stop people in small boats entering the UK illegally.

Under the plans people who arrive unlawfully in the UK will be detained for 28 days before being returned or sent to a country with whom the government has a returns agreement, like Rwanda. 

"My policy is very simple, it is this country — and your government — who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs. And I will do whatever is necessary to achieve that," the PM said in a press conference later in the day.

While the intention of the policy has been broadly welcomed by Conservative MPs, there are questions over how it will actually work in practice and how ministers will overcome legal challenges. 

The plans, set out in the Illegal Migration Bill, build on the contentious returns deal struck with Rwanda last year, in which the African country agreed to receive some people who arrive in the UK legally. The partnership is yet to produce a deportation, however, due to legal challenges.

In rare public remarks before the CCHQ email surfaced, Home Office Permanent Secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft defended the role of civil servants in the creation of the government's deportation policy.

Speaking last month to PoliticsHome's sister publication, Civil Service World, in an interview that will be published in full later this weekRycroft said it was the job of officials to provide "maximum challenge" and that "the more challenge you can get in early on" before policy is finalised, "the better for eventual policy".

He said: “Before ministers decide on a policy or a new process, our job as civil servants is to provide maximum challenge. It’s all part of the robust policymaking process.

"That necessarily needs to be behind the scenes, and we need to have the latitude and the openness to have that sort of challenging conversation. I firmly believe the more challenge you can get in early on, the better for eventual policy."

He went on to say he was "very proud" of the work his civil servants colleague did during the process of the initial Rwanda policy was being put together when Priti Patel was Home Secretary.

“On Rwanda, it was a very sensitive topic with only a small number of people who even knew about it, nevermind had the opportunity to challenge it," he said.

"And everyone else had to take my word for it that there was a robust level of challenge beforehand. And there was – I’m very proud of what the small number of people involved beforehand did do by way of stress-testing and improving the policy.”

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