Given the choice between restoring ‘integrity and accountability’ to Government or protecting his own interests, Sunak has consistently chosen the latter, reports Adam Bienkov
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“Integrity, professionalism and accountability are core values of this Government,” Rishi Sunak told Suella Braverman this morning, as he revealed he plans to take no action against the Home Secretary over allegations that she breached the Ministerial Code.
The decision, which took the Prime Minister four long days to reach from when the story first broke last weekend, comes after days of threats from Sunak’s enemies that he faced mutiny from his backbenchers if he moved against her.
The outcome itself is not hugely surprising. There is a convincing argument to make that Braverman’s decision to involve civil servants in resolving her speeding notice was a breach of the ministerial code, even if quite a minor one.
However, even if an investigation had been launched and it had found against her, changes to the ministerial code brought in by Boris Johnson last year meant she would likely only had to have issued an apology rather than stepped down.
Yet Sunak’s lengthy dithering and ultimate capitulation to Braverman over whether to even risk that mild outcome, shows the utter weakness of his position.
From the very start of his premiership, Sunak has acted as if he is almost a passive observer of his Government rather than its active leader. From his initial Cabinet choices, which included heavily tainted figures like Braverman and other figures he never wanted but felt too weak to shift, like the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Sunak has often acted more like a substitute teacher than the school headmaster.
No better was this demonstrated than through his relationship with Braverman. Just last week, as Sunak tried to again relaunch his faltering Government following the local elections, the Home Secretary instead opted to join proceedings at the National Conservatism conference in London.
The event, which in normal times would have been written off as a gathering of fringe hard and far-right cranks and conspiracists, was instead host to leading Cabinet members and Conservative MPs. In her own wide-ranging speech Braverman attacked the Government’s record on immigration and launched what most commentators described as a fairly transparent bid to replace Sunak as Prime Minister.
Yet rather than slap down his Home Secretary, or even order her to step down for her her attendance at an event with speakers who have previously expressed Islamophobic, racist and far-right views, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister instead told Byline Times that Braverman and other ministers were “free to attend” any such event they pleased.
The contrast with Sunak’s predecessors was stark. David Cameron’s Government reportedly broke off contact with one leading figure at the event, Douglas Murray, over his comments about Muslims. Braverman, by contrast publicly endorsed Murray, with zero pushback from Downing Street. Even Boris Johnson, who himself had a long record of debasing standards in public life, previously balked at the prospect of his own MPs attending such events, with one Conservative MP who did attend a previous Natcon conference in 2020, ordered to apologise by the Conservative party at the time.
Indeed, despite Sunak’s claims to be restoring “integrity and accountability” to public life, the Prime Minister is developing a long record of merely further dragging those values further through the mud.
The barring of the renowned weapons expert Dan Kaszeta from a defence conference yesterday, due to his previous criticism of Sunak’s Government is just the latest example of an administration which appears determined to restrict the freedoms of expression of anyone who dares to criticise them. Despite Sunak’s appointment two weeks ago of a new “free speech tsar”, the Prime Minister is developing a long record of actively restricting the speech of his political opponents.
Whether it’s his Government’s restrictions on the right to protest, the right to strike, or his barring of critical media outlets from some press conferences and foreign visits, Sunak’s commitment to transparency and “accountability” seems only to extend to those people who already entirely agree with him.
In another Government, the admittance by the former Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, that the decision to push ahead with voter ID was an attempt to “gerrymander” the vote, might have led to a re-evaluation of the policy, which early figures suggest led to many thousands of people being denied the vote. However, rather than retreat from the policy, Sunak’s Government has instead vowed to push ahead with extending the new requirements to postal votes as well.
His persistence with the Rwanda programme, which most international observers suggest is a breach of international law, is yet another example of Sunak’s refusal to restore the integrity and morality of his Government after thirteen years in office.
Asked this week about the Home Secretary’s own undeclared previous links to the Rwandan Government, a spokesman for the Prime Minister again declined to comment.
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The latest allegations of law-breaking by the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson during lockdown, and his allies’ subsequent menacing threats to the Prime Minister to somehow squash the investigation, will no doubt further convince many Conservative MPs that they did the right thing by replacing Johnson with Sunak.
However, beyond his slick image, the Prime Minister has done little to restore the “core values” of integrity and accountability to his Government, and in some ways has actively made them worse.
At every turn, given the choice between taking a principled position, or protecting his own interests, Sunak has consistently taken the latter option.
The continued survival of Suella Braverman in office, despite all the mounting allegations against her, is only the most visible example of that tendency.
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