Conservative lawmakers are pleading with Rishi Sunak to launch an investigation into Suella Braverman and fire her if it turns out that she broke the ministry guidelines in how she handled a speeding ticket.
Following allegations that Ms. Braverman urged officials to try to arrange a private speed awareness course rather than receive points on her license, senior Tory MPs told The Independent that she had displayed “constant poor judgment” and appeared to have gone “too far” in her error.
The home secretary made her first public statements regarding the controversy, in which she did not deny requesting government workers to investigate the prospect of a one-on-one training, but she also expressed confidence that she had done “nothing untoward” and denied attempting to “evade” punishment.
When asked for his support, Mr. Sunak declined, stating that he had spoken to both Ms. Braverman and No. 10 ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus and was still looking for “more information” before determining whether to commission an investigation.
Senior Conservatives are outraged by yet another ethics controversy rocking the administration, with a division between those who want Ms. Braverman sacked if a rule violation is confirmed and those who think disgruntled civil workers are responsible for the “storm in a teacup”.
One Tory minister told The Independent that the PM should promptly request Sir Laurie to conduct an investigation. She should unquestionably resign if she is discovered to have violated the ministerial code once more.
A former cabinet minister said there was “clearly” a case for investigation – adding that it appeared to be “a mistake too far” for Ms Braverman. “Frankly, there have been a number of lapses of judgement. If there’s a breach of code the prime minister might want to get someone else.”
Another former Tory minister continued, “It’s behavior that shows her consistent bad judgment. If the prime minister permits her to carry on peddling overblown rhetoric and making speeches that undermine the Conservative image, he will suffer.
On Monday, Mr. Sunak was observed giving the home secretary a pat on the back as he entered the Commons in what appeared to be an act of support. The PM wants to ensure that a “proper process” is followed, according to No. 10, but they declined to support the home secretary’s own claim that she done “nothing untoward.”
Pressed by opposition MPs in the Commons, Ms Braverman said: “Last summer I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the penalty. And at no point did I tried to evade sanction.”
Sir Philip Rycroft, a former senior civil officer, charged that her request for a one-on-one training was a “real lapse in judgment.” This appears to be a violation of the ministerial code, he claimed.
He cited section 7.1 of the ministerial code, which states that “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.
A probe was also demanded by Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. A speeding ticket is a domestic concern, therefore asking for a special privilege through the civil service would be illegal, he told The Independent. “It looks like totally inappropriate behavior.”
The former standards chief pointed to paragraph 1.3 of the code – which outlines the “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and protect the integrity of public life”.
Sir Alistair added: “If the evidence demonstrates she asked civil servants to behave in an inappropriate manner, I would think it would be a breach of the code.”
If the reports are accurate, a top Tory source claimed that Ms. Braverman “is in difficulty” because “you can’t use your official position to get privileged treatment”.
The former minister compared the predicament to Labour home secretary David Blunkett, who left office in 2004 following accusations from his ex-girlfriend Kimberly Quinn that he had abused his authority to expedite a visa for her foreign nanny.
The MP claimed that because Ms. Braverman had “a track record,” her coworkers would be “less sympathetic” if she is discovered to have broken the law. The MP continued, “Despite all this talk about her representing a faction, it is a pretty small faction and a lot of right-wingers do not like her at all.”
Liz Truss fired Ms. Braverman in October after she forwarded an official document to a fellow Tory MP from her personal email account, breaking the ministerial code in what she called a “technical infringement.”
Despite the most recent argument, Ms. Braverman’s supporters defended her, saying she was the object of a smear campaign by public workers. According to Craig Mackinlay MP, the controversy over Ms. Braverman’s speeding fine is a “total storm in a teacup.”
Henry Smith MP said the speeding story suggested “a wider movement” against Ms Braverman in Whitehall. “There is a lot of pushback against policies she is pursuing, particularly the Rwanda plan, so I suspect that is what is more behind this,” the Tory backbencher added.
The Sunday Times claimed that Ms. Braverman requested assistance from Home Office civil servants to set up a private driving awareness training as opposed to the group session provided to drivers who commit minor speeding infractions.
Officials apparently rejected the request, so Ms. Braverman allegedly sought help from a political adviser.
If it is determined that Ms. Braverman violated the ministerial code, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said she should go, while the Liberal Democrats said Mr. Sunak’s “inability to act” on an investigation “is a clear failure of leadership.”
Civil servants receive funding from the public sector, according to Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union that represents top officials. They neglect to conduct their shopping and deal with their speeding ticket.
When the idea was made to them last month, Ms. Braverman’s special adviser vehemently denied that she had been caught speeding, according to a story in the Mirror. However, Downing Street refused to comment.
The special adviser should always speak the truth to media, according to Mr. Sunak, a No. 10 spokesman said, adding that they “of course” agree with him. However, they would not comment on whether the special adviser had failed to do so.
We have contacted the Home Office and Ms. Braverman’s assistant for comments.