The political future of British Home Secretary Suella Braverman hangs in the balance as she faces anger within her own Conservative Party after making unauthorised comments about the country’s pro-Palestine demonstrations, which she called “hate marches” and for criticising the police.
In an opinion piece published in The Times on Thursday, Braverman said that the police “play favourites” and have taken a soft stance towards rallies in support of Gaza, which she described as “pro-Palestinian mobs”.
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“The content was not agreed with Number 10,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters, referring to the prime minister’s Downing Street office. The ministerial code is clear that any ministerial media interventions need approval from No 10.
Sunak is under pressure to sack Braverman, but his spokesperson Max Blain also said the prime minister still had full confidence in her.
Sunak’s deputy held meetings this week to discuss plans for changes to his cabinet, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday, adding that a reshuffle could come as soon as next week.
Braverman is seen as a potential future leader of the governing Conservative Party, and has consistently staked out far-right positions on issues such as multiculturalism and immigration.
The opposition Labour Party has drawn on such incidents to paint a picture of a weak and divided government, with Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, calling Braverman “out of control” and Labour leader Keir Starmer saying that Sunak is too weak to challenge her.
Sunak “must know that this isn’t the way that a home secretary should behave,” said Starmer. “He must know in himself that the role of responsible government is to reduce tension and to support police in the difficult decisions they have to make.”
In an open letter to Sunak, Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden noted that “no previous Home Secretary has ever launched such an attack on the police”.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has confirmed that the Home Secretary’s article was not cleared by No 10.
Article 8.2 of the Ministerial code says all such interventions have to be cleared.
Given it wasn’t cleared, what will he do now? My letter to the PM is below. pic.twitter.com/qNff6lOfZG
— Pat McFadden (@patmcfaddenmp) November 9, 2023
There was no further update from Sunak’s office about what action it would take, if any, against Braverman, according to British media reports.
Braverman’s stance towards pro-Palestinian political activity has previously drawn criticism, including comments suggesting that waving a Palestinian flag could be a criminal offence.
“I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza,” Braverman wrote in The Times. “They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.”
Conservative members have said that her comments are divisive and undermine the police.
Critics have said Braverman is trying to position herself for a party leadership contest that could come if the Conservatives lose power in an election that is expected next year. Opinion polls have for months put the party 15 to 20 points behind Labour.
London has witnessed massive weekend demonstrations over the past month, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce Israel’s relentless bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip and demand the United Kingdom government call for a ceasefire.
A large rally in support of Palestine is expected to take place on Saturday, coinciding with Armistice weekend, an annual remembrance of World War I.
Police Commissioner Mark Rowley has said there were insufficient grounds to ban a pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day.
“At a time when we should be seeking to unite communities – the Home Secretary is dividing them. Language matters – and the Home Sec’s comments are inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible,” London Mayor Said Khan posted on X.
Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out on October 7 – following an attack on Israel by the Palestinian group that Israeli authorities say killed more than 1,400 people – Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities around the world have expressed fear that tensions could spill over into their own communities.
At least 10,812 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since.
It is not the first time the right-wing minister has been the subject of controversy. Braverman recently called homelessness a “lifestyle choice” and previously drew censure from Pakistan’s foreign minister after saying that Pakistani men “hold cultural values at odds with British values” and worked in abuse rings that target “vulnerable white English girls”.
She was in Rwanda this year to discuss an agreement in which the UK will relocate undocumented refugees and migrants there as she doubles down on a plan that has been mired in legal challenges and controversy, and was faced scathing criticism for describing the arrival of asylum seekers on the UK’s southern coast as an “invasion”.