Suella Braverman denies ‘spreading poison’ to oust Sunak as she’s challenged over attack on Rwanda plan

Sacked home secretary claims Sunak’s new Rwanda plan won’t work – and insists she is merely being ‘honest’ about ‘weak’ Tory leader

Adam Forrest,Archie Mitchell
Thursday 07 December 2023 10:27 GMT
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Suella Braverman denies ‘spreading poison’ to oust Rishi Sunak

Suella Braverman has denied trying to oust Rishi Sunak by “spreading poison” in the Tory party, as the PM was left reeling from the shock resignation of Robert Jenrick as immigration minister.

Mr Sunak’s premiership has been rocked by the resignation of Ms Braverman’s ally, as the PM failed to appease the Tory right with his plan to “disapply” the UK Human Rights Act in Rwanda deportation cases.

Mr Sunak will hold a press conference at 11am this morning as he faces a growing crisis over his Rwanda plans, with No 10 said to be increasingly worried by the number of no-confidence letters being submitted by Tory MPs.

In a bruising interview of BBC Radio 4, the sacked home secretary defended her outspoken attacks on Mr Sunak and piled further pressure on him by insisting his Rwanda deportation legislation is doomed to fail.

Ms Braverman said she was merely being “honest” and would not “shy away” from make further controversial comments. “If that upsets polite society I am sorry about it,” she said.

The right-winger – who has claimed Mr Sunak is “weak” – was challenged by Today programmer interviewer Nick Robinson, who told her: “You are a headline grabber and you do it by spreading poison, even within your own party.”

Ms Braverman replied: “Sometimes honesty is uncomfortable, but I’m not going to shy away from telling people how it is and from plain speaking, and if that upsets polite society, then I’m sorry about that.”

The tense exchange came as Ms Braverman attacked Mr Sunak’s legislation, saying: “This bill will fail.” She said the reality “is it won’t work and it will not stop the boats.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said she would not ‘shy away from telling people how it is’

The right of the party furious that the PM chose not to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Mr Sunak is reportedly worried by the number of no confidence letters being submitted – amid warnings he could soon face a leadership challenge.

In his scathing resignation letter, Mr Jenrick made clear he wanted to bypass the ECHR – calling the bill “a triumph of hope over experience”. And Ms Braverman told the BBC the bill “will allow a merry go round of legal claims and litigation. Ultimately, this bill will fail.”

Since being fired, Ms Braverman is widely seen to be plotting a bid to succeed Mr Sunak. On Wednesday she warned the PM that the Tories were heading for “electoral oblivion” if he failied to thwart international human rights law.

But she denied speculation she is plotting to bring down Mr Sunak’s government, saying “no one’s talking about leadership or changing leadership”. “That’s nonsense,” she told the BBC.

Robert Jenrick said Sunak bill is ‘triumph of hope over experience’

In an extraordinary exchange, Ms Braverman was repeatedly asked whether Mr Sunak was “lying” when he claimed the Rwandan government had threatened to pull out of the deal if Britain breached international treaties. “I don’t know [whether he is lying],” she eventually said.

A No 10 accused Ms Braverman of denying reality. A Downing Street source said: “Conservatives need to work within reality. What she wants isn’t available, the Rwandans have said no.”

Mr Sunak also fired back at Mr Jenrick – telling him his resignation was based on a “fundamental misunderstanding of the situation”. The PM said Rwanda would “collapse the entire scheme” if he had gone any further.

The Tory leader is reportedly ready to threatens to call an election if right-wing MPs threaten to vote against his legislation. The PM is considering making the vital showdown on the legislation next week – with a vote expected on Tuesday – a confidence issue.

Convention dictates that the PM would either resign or dissolving parliament and call an election if he loses such a vote. However, No 10 sources have denied that next week’s showdown vote will be treated as a confidence vote in the government.

Cabinet minister Chris Heaton-Harris played down the chances of Rishi Sunak facing a vote on his leadership as “very unlikely”. The Northern Ireland secretary told LBC: “I’d say vanishingly small.”

Mr Heaton-Harris added: “I don’t think it’s as a big a story as is being made. I don’t like anybody resigning from my party, but when I was Boris Johnson’s chief whip... Pretty much everyone did. Maybe I have a scale of proportion that others don’t have.”

Rishi Sunak is under huge pressure from Tory centrists and right-wingers

Despite the huge damage done by Mr Jenrick’s resignation, the PM had been warned that he faced an even more damaging rebellion – with the possible resignation of up to 10 moderate ministers – if he had tried to bypass the ECHR.

Senior Tory moderate Damian Green, chair of the One Nation group – which boasts support from around 100 MPs – has warned Mr Sunak that he “should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and HRA”.

A spokesman for the One Nation group said it welcomed the government’s decision to stick with “international commitments”, and taking legal advice on whether to support the bill.

Despite the cautious backing of centrists, senior moderate Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio that he would not support the Rwanda bill if there is “any prospect” of breaking international laws. “We uphold international law. We don’t break it.”

Mr Ellwood said the row over Rwanda was “ripping our party in half”. The Tory MP added: “If this infighting continues, it will not just cost us the next general election, it will see our party splinter into two between the centre right and the far right.”

The new Sunak bill includes provisions to disapply relevant parts of the Human Rights Act so they cannot be factored into court decisions on deportation cases – but does not try to disapply the ECHR.

However, the legislation will ensure UK ministers “retain the decision on whether or not to comply” with interim orders from the European Court of Human Rights – the Strasbourg body that oversees the ECHR.

Former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve told BBC Newsnight: “We are watching Tory splits between those MPs that believe in the rule of law and those Conservatives who do not.”

The Tory right are also angry at the legislation still allows for individual legal challenges. Mr Heaton-Harris acknowledged that people faced with being sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda will still have some legal routes to challenge the decision.

The right-wing Brexiteer Mark Francois said: “If under this legislation those people could continue to appeal and appeal in order to delay being put on a flight, what’s the point of the bill?”

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