Ben Riley-Smith et al., The Telegraph, November 14, 2023
Suella Braverman has accused Rishi Sunak of betraying the nation by backtracking on a secret deal to ignore European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rulings.
In one of the most scathing departure letters from a Cabinet minister in recent history, the former home secretary claimed the Prime Minister had dodged “hard decisions” on how to “stop the boats”.
She said Mr Sunak’s approach to tackling illegal migration across the Channel had seen him use “wishful thinking as a comfort blanket” and amounted to “irresponsibility”.
Mrs Braverman condemned his attempts to make the Tories appealing to voters and demanded a return to an “authentic conservative agenda”, in what some may see as a threat of a future leadership challenge.
Mrs Braverman claimed in her letter that legislating against the ECHR was one of four promises Mr Sunak made to her.
The other three were measures to bring down illegal migration, delivering the Northern Ireland Protocol and Retained EU Law Bills in their existing form, and issuing “unequivocal” guidance for schools to protect biological sex.
Mrs Braverman claimed that she pushed Mr Sunak at times with letters about the promises, but “this was often met with equivocation, disregard and a lack of interest”.
Her attack was published ahead of Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling on whether the Government’s scheme of deporting migrants who arrive in the UK in small boats to Rwanda is legal.
She wrote: “Someone needs to be honest; your plan is not working, we have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed and we are running out of time. You need to change course urgently.”
Downing Street dismissed the three-page letter publicly, with a No 10 spokesman saying: “The Prime Minister was proud to appoint a strong, united team yesterday focused on delivering for the British people. The Prime Minister believes in actions not words.”
Mrs Braverman’s explosive letter came after she was sacked as home secretary on Monday morning as Mr Sunak reshuffled his Cabinet, saying he wanted a “united team” following rows over her outspoken comments concerning homelessness and policing of protests.
Her sacking triggered a backlash on the Right of the party, but allies of Mr Sunak claimed Mrs Braverman had misjudged her support among Tory MPs. One said: “It is just someone angry about being sacked.”
The Telegraph understands that the letter was being drafted for days before Mrs Braverman was sacked, with her team privately expecting the Prime Minister to remove her.
At its heart is a claim that Mr Sunak signed a secret deal to secure her backing for his Tory leadership bid to replace Liz Truss last autumn, in which he promised to ignore the ECHR if it stood in the way of stopping small boats carrying migrants across the Channel.
Mrs Braverman wrote: “I was clear from day one that if you did not wish to leave the ECHR, the way to securely and swiftly deliver our Rwanda partnership would be to block off the ECHR, the HRA [Human Rights Act] and any other obligations which inhibit our ability to remove those with no right to be in the UK. Our deal expressly referenced ‘notwithstanding clauses’ to that effect.”
So-called “notwithstanding clauses” would allow British courts to ignore ECHR rulings in specific cases, such as when an illegal migrant requests to remain in the UK to preserve their right to a family life.
However, Mr Sunak has not made that move and declined to back pulling the UK out of the ECHR – something Mrs Braverman has supported in the past and is likely to champion from the back benches.
Mrs Braverman wrote that she had repeatedly warned the Prime Minister that his Rwanda policy faced defeat in the Supreme Court. She also said that, even if the judges allow the Rwanda flights to go ahead, the legislation for tackling illegal migration would not prove effective.
“At every stage of litigation I cautioned you and your team against assuming we would win,” she wrote. “I repeatedly urged you to take legislative measures that would better secure us against the possibility of defeat.
“You ignored these arguments. You opted instead for wishful thinking as a comfort blanket to avoid having to make hard choices. This irresponsibility has wasted time and left the country in an impossible position.
“If we lose in the Supreme Court, an outcome that I have consistently argued we must be prepared for, you will have wasted a year and an Act of Parliament, only to arrive back at square one. Worse than this, your magical thinking – believing that you can will your way through this without upsetting polite opinion – has meant you have failed to prepare any sort of credible ‘Plan B’.”
Rwanda flights deporting migrants who arrived in the UK illegally have been halted since last June, when a judge from the European Court of Human Rights blocked them.
Mrs Braverman attacked European judges as “politicised” and “interventionist” after they interfered with her flagship policy. She told last year’s Tory party conference that seeing a Rwanda flight take off was her “dream”.
On Wednesday, five Supreme Court judges will reveal whether they have upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that the policy was unlawful because of the risk that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda would be returned to their country and be persecuted – a breach of their human rights.
The Home Office has drafted a variety of options for how to deliver the Rwanda deportation flights if the Supreme Court rules the current plan illegal, including striking a new treaty with Rwanda within days in order to improve the legal underpinning for the scheme.
But the Government is likely to face demand from as many as 60 backbenchers to quit the ECHR if the Supreme Court rejects its case, despite Downing Street maintaining that it can meet its pledge to stop the boats within its international obligations.
Downing Street did not deny the existence of the alleged agreement, though allies of Mr Sunak demanded that Mrs Braverman publish it in writing to back up her claims.
Her backers claimed the document was a single page of bullet point agreements but declined to prove the claims by releasing it on Tuesday. A government source told The Telegraph: “They should produce it.”
Among other criticisms, Mrs Braverman accused Mr Sunak of not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel, criticising his “uncertain, weak” leadership on the issue.
She concluded her attack by saying: “I may not have always found the right words, but I have always striven to give voice to the quiet majority that supported in 2019. I have endeavoured to be honest and true to the people who put us in these privileged positions.
“I will, of course, continue to support the Government in pursuit of policies which align with an authentic conservative agenda.”