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Rishi Sunak has Suella Braverman exactly where he wants her


The Ministry of Home Affairs under Rishi Sunak is an interesting department.

It is nominally led by Suella Braverman, who appeared to have been handed the reins during the Conservative leadership contest in October 2022. Of course, we do not know the details of such a “deal” between Sunak and his future interior minister, and it is not confirmed that any formal arrangements were ever made. But Braverman’s continued presence in government after two scandals related to the ministerial code may speak for itself.

At a time when political psychodrama has escalated, the “pact” many thought was an act of relative elegance. As Conservative MPs searched for a replacement for Liz Truss, the two former rivals agreed to put their differences aside in favor of mutually assured career advancement: it was the ultimate marriage of convenience. Whispers at the end of the Rabbit Interregnum suggested that it would be a merger Sunak-Mardaunt site which would depose the ailing Prime Minister. But commentators have not taken into account the continued influence of Braverman, recently fired from the Interior Ministry under a cloud of scandal. Today we see that it was a difficult Entente of Sunac and Braverman didn’t win it.

Of course, for the junior partner in such a deal, the result is usually the creation of a personal fiefdom in government – with full control over the levers of policy in the desired department. One relevant example is the ‘Granite Pact’ between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, agreed in an Islington restaurant on the eve of the 1994 Labor leadership election. The analogy is not perfect; The relationship between Brown and Blair was defined as much by their personalities as by their policies, and the tentacles of the Treasury naturally spread much wider than those of the Home Office. But recent history tells us that a senior cabinet minister, having secured his position through an agreement, must be secondus inter pares in government, deliberately undermining collective responsibility and distorting the distribution of power in the British executive.

The Home Secretary’s recent freelancing at the Conservative National Conference may indicate that she has succeeded in the former area. But on the latter: instead of creating a semi-autonomous institutional power base in government, Braverman doesn’t even appear to be the most influential person in the Home Office.

Robert Jerrick, the immigration minister and a key Sunak ally, has become a key component of the prime minister’s political activities in recent months. He spent Sunday morning making the rounds of media studios for the government, missing a six-month update on the prime minister’s pledge to “stop the boats”. He told Sky News that “thousands” of illegal migrants are in the process of returning to Albania; there was relatively little mention of the interior minister, his boss.

Certainly the prominence of the small boat issue right now — a consequence of the Prime Minister’s swearing in in January — has raised Jericho’s profile considerably. In March, he especially and skilfully managed the bill on illegal migration at the stage of the public affairs committee, when this law passed through the House of Representatives. In fact, since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, it was Jerrick, not Braverman, who was entrusted with the Home Office’s most difficult parliamentary tasks. (Interior Secretary contributions to general funds tend to be more chaotic, a fact revealed yesterday as Braverman clashed with the Speaker and her opposite number Yvette Cooper).

Moreover, as the immigration minister, Jerrick did not shy away from the brief’s discursive elements. His comments at a Policy Exchange event last month that migration threatened to “cannibalize” British compassion was a tacit confirmation that the minister would not act as a moderating influence at the Home Office, as initially thought. The best way to appease Braverman, it seems, is to simply agree with her.

Ultimately, Jericho’s proximity to Braverman in both policy stance and rhetoric – combined with his media and inbox visibility – means he is nothing less than the de facto Secretary of the Interior in Sunak’s government. Braverman’s personal fiefdom, the Department of the Interior, is not.

Suella’s “soft power”?

Of course, you could say that having won a promise to “stop the boats” for his department – one-fifth of the prime minister’s campaign offer – Braverman is wielding soft power in the cabinet, slowly working with his colleagues on the right on migration. And, from a policy perspective, Sunak and Braverman’s political alliance appears to have made a significant move in favor of right-wing conservatives. If the illegal immigration bill is passed, those arriving on “small boats” will be detained for the first 28 days without bail or a judicial review. This would put the government under a legal obligation to deport virtually anyone who arrives in the UK “irregularly”. And it will put a cap on the number of refugees who are offered safe and legal asylum.

But the fact that the Prime Minister described himself as an uncompromising conservative who stops the “small boat”, even escalating illegal migration at the ECtHR’s intervention at the stage of the population affairs committee, is not necessarily attributed to Braverman’s influence. Sunak’s tough talk, his tough rules, his arrogance, his desire to test the limits of international law and take a look at the ECtHR should be viewed through the lens of electoral strategy rather than party governance.

Small boats are central to Sunak’s policy proposition — his very presidential approach is shaped in this area as in others by polls that show he is far more popular than his party. So when the public was updated on the “small boat” situation yesterday, it was Sunak, freshly decked out in Timberland boots, at the helm. We are long past the time when tough talk about migration was the sole prerogative of a select conservative party clique.

And then there is the matter of the curse of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The department is not what it once was as a breeding ground for an ambitious minister, and Braverman’s continued presence there may eventually begin to erode her future leadership.

In 2019-2022, then Home Secretary Priti Patel was no less convinced about immigration policy than Braverman is now. But by the end of her tenure, she was much ridiculed by grassroots conservatives. Patel found that the expectations created by tough rhetoric in the Home Office made the sense of scarcity even more political. ConservativeHomeThe latest cabinet “league table” during Boris Johnson’s premiership showed Petel was satisfied with a negative 13.4 per cent of party members polled.

Gordon Brown once said that “there are only two types of chancellors; those that fail and those that come out in time.’ It’s a saying that can easily be applied to the Home Office today. After all, it’s a lot easier for the Home Secretary, who is running for future leadership, to talk about small boats than to “stop” outright.

This means that any future success in illegal immigration is likely to be linked to the influence of the Prime Minister and his Timberland boots. But failures at crossings across the Channel, as Priti Patel’s case study shows, could ultimately backfire on the ambitious Home Secretary.

The Braverman-Sunac nexus thus became not a model of dual governance, but a means by which the Prime Minister advanced his partisan and political goals. The Home Secretary and her leadership prospects would appear to be the losers in this equation.

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