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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Tories Are Starkly Divided Over Suella Braverman's Rise To The Top

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (Alamy)

3 min read

A growing divide among Conservatives over the prospect of Home Secretary Suella Braverman being the party's next leader if they lose the next general election has spilled out into the open at the Tory conference in Manchester.

Braverman's hardline approach to tackling illegal migration since she became Home Secretary, which includes a personal view that the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in order to stop small boats crossings, has helped her build considerable support among MPs in the right of the party. 

She further endeared herself to this group of Conservative MPs last week when she used a major speech in Washington to say anyone who calls for reform of the ECHR or other international refugee agreements will be "smeared as anti-refugee". The speech was widely viewed as a preemptive leadership pitch by Braverman to the right of the party.

Braverman used similarly strong language in her speech to Tory conference Tuesday, telling party members in Manchester that the country faced a "hurricane" of migrants.

“The wind of change that carried my own parents across the globe in the 20th century was a mere gust compared to the hurricane that is coming," she said.

"[The public] know another thing, that the future could bring millions more migrants to these shores, uncontrolled and unmanageable unless the government they elect next year acts decisively to stop that happening.”

Speaking to PoliticsHome in Manchester, one former secretary of statewho like other Conservative MPs in the moderate wing of the party is concerned about the home secretary's language, said they felt Braverman was "unsackable" because a decision by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to replace her in the Home Office would provoke the wrath of her backbench supporters. 

On Tuesday, Lee Anderson, the Conservative party's deputy leader, accused PoliticsHome of "making it up" when asked about Conservative MPs who fear the home secretary's rhetoric is "toxifying" the party brand. Anderson, who heaped praise on Braverman for her "brilliant" Washington speech, was speaking at a Q&A on the sidelines of Tory conference this afternoon. 

Elsewhere at conference, Alicia Kearns, the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton who chairs the foreign affairs select committee, said Braverman had "crossed the line" when she said in her speech in the US that being gay was not sufficient to gain refugee status.

Kearns told Times Radio the remarks were not "data driven" or "accurate", and that a small number of asylum applications submitted to the Home Office reference sexuality.

"LGBT+ people were singled out by the home secretary," she said.

"When you look at the figures in 2021, only 1.5 per cent of all asylum applications referenced sexuality. How are we worried about the 1.5 per cent when the other vast, vast majority is actually what we should be looking at. And that for me is the kind of example where why are we singling out LGBT+ people when we should be focusing on the vast, vast majority?"

Kearns added that ministers pursuing media coverage "should never be at the cost or at the expense of an individual, let alone a vulnerable community".

Andrew Boff, the Conservative chair of the London Assembly, was filmed being removed from the Manchester Centre conference hall during Braverman's speech on Tuesday, with a camera capturing the seasoned Tory describing it as "trash" and a "homophobic rant".

In an interview with Sky News, he stressed he had been a "loyal Tory for 50 years".

"This trash gender ideology is making our Conservative party look transphobic and homophobic. This is not what the Conservative party is about," he said.

Braverman later tweeted that Boff's remarks were "silly" but he should be allowed to return to the conference.

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