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Rishi Sunak's Patience With Suella Braverman Is Wearing Thin

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

5 min read

Rishi Sunak's patience with Suella Braverman is being stretched further than ever after the Home Secretary's contentious remarks about homelessness prompted fury among Conservative MPs. The Prime Minister's willingness to keep her in his Cabinet is in growing doubt.

Rishi Sunak is seriously considering whether it is worth keeping Suella Braverman in Cabinet after the Home Secretary's contentious claim that homelessness is a "lifestyle choice" triggered a widespread, furious backlash among Tory back benchers, PoliticsHome understands.

Braverman further tested the Prime Minister's patience on Wednesday night when in an explosive article for The Times she doubled down on a previous description of a pro-Palestine march planned to take place this weekend as being a "hate" march, and accused the Metropolitan Police of a "double standard" in how it responds to protests by different groups.

Following the controversial intervention, on Thursday morning Mark Harper, the transport secretary, became the latest Cabinet minister to disagree with Braverman. Asked by Times Radio whether the police have a left-wing bias, as claimed by the Home Secretary in The Times, Harper said "police forces are focused on upholding the law without fear or favour".

In the same article, Braverman likened what she described as the "hate" marches set to happen in Westminster on Saturday as what "we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland" – in a comparison which risked causing outrage across the Irish Sea.

Braverman, who is widely regarded as a leading candidate to lead the Conservatives in the future due to her support among the right of the party, has been accused of testing PM Sunak's authority by publicly pushing more hardline positions on issues like immigration and the UK's place in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in recent months.

Those allegations have heightened in recent days following her remarks about homelessness and the march, which Cabinet ministers including Sunak have distanced themselves from.

One senior Tory told PoliticsHome it would be an "understatement" to say that Downing Street and government whips had received complaints from many Conservative MPs about the Home Secretary's remarks this week, and added that the Prime Minister was fully aware of the level of fury within the parliamentary Tory party towards her.

They went on to say that Sunak's "formula" for why he decided to appoint her to his government upon entering office around a year ago could change as rows over Braverman's language threaten to distract from his agenda at a key moment in his premiership.

One former secretary of state said Braverman's remarks about homelessness were "fucking outrageous" and that Sunak should be bold enough to sack her. "Why doesn't he [Sunak] say, 'fuck it, I'll govern how I see fit and if you don't like it, bye'," they said.

Braverman on Saturday confirmed an FT report that she wanted to restrict tents for rough sleepers, arguing that the UK could not allow "streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice". 

Cracking down on people living in tents is one idea that has been explored by the government as part of its plans to tackle antisocial behaviour, but it was not agreed policy when the Home Secretary made her remarks, PoliticsHome understands. Her claim that it is a "lifestyle choice" prompted public criticism from Conservative MPs like Richard Graham, Bob Blackman and Natalie Elphicke, as well as the party's deputy leader Nickie Aiken.

She has also found herself at odds with other members of the Cabinet in her approach to a pro-Palestine march planned for Saturday. Prime Minister Sunak himself has described the decision to hold the march on the same day as Armistice Day as "disrespectful" and "offensive", but has not gone as far as Braverman by agreeing that it is a "hate march". 

Stephen Barclay, the secretary of state for health, yesterday disagreed with Braverman's characterisation of those planning to attend Saturday's march. He told BBC Radio 4 "that's not the behaviour of everyone" who intends to participate.

A move by the Prime Minister to remove Braverman in a future reshuffle, which is encouraged by MPs from the One Nation, moderate wing of the parliamentary party in particular, would likely trigger a furious reaction from her most avid supporters on the back benches.

WhatsApp messages obtained by LBC last night showed Tories like the party's deputy leader Lee Anderson rounding on Conservative MPs who had publicly chastised Braverman's remarks in recent days. "I thought we were supposed to criticise the opposition, not one of our own. Maybe I got this politics all wrong," messaged Anderson.

The so-called Common Sense group of Conservative MPs, which contains a number of Braverman's most enthusiastic backers on the back benches, met in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon in what was regarded as a show of support for the under-fire Home Secretary.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, last night said Braverman was "out of control".

"Her article tonight is a highly irresponsible, dangerous attempt to undermine respect for police at a sensitive time, to rip up operational independence & to inflame community tensions. No other Home Secretary of any party would ever do this," she tweeted.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the article was "inaccurate, inflammatory & irresponsible" and that the Home Secretary "should support the police to keep everyone safe at this delicate time, not make their job harder".

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesperson, said Braverman was "running a Conservative party leadership campaign, not the Home Office".

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