From the highway code to the ministerial code, the rules just don’t apply to Suella Braverman

The home secretary getting done for speeding really doesn’t matter very much. But asking the civil service to connive a way for you to take the easy way out does

Tom Peck
Monday 22 May 2023 22:46 BST
Suella Braverman 'confident that nothing untoward happened' over speeding ticket

Suella Braverman probably has a perfectly reasonable explanation for why, having been done for speeding, she asked her civil service staff to see if they could arrange a private one-on-one speed awareness course for her, so that no one would know about it.

I say merely probably, not definitely, because while standing at the despatch box of the house of commons, Braverman was asked at least 11 times to provide that explanation and declined to do so.

Every single time, she said only this: “Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the points. At no point did I seek to avoid sanction.”

So the perfectly reasonable explanation she no doubt has, she will furnish us with when she sees fit. She must be aware, you would think, that if she does not provide that explanation, then other narratives will take hold.

Like, for example, the one in which Sir Philip Rycroft, a very senior civil servant, now retired, has said that Braverman’s actions will have put her team “in an impossible position” and that the reports, if accurate, demonstrate a clear breach of the ministerial code.

Ah, the ministerial code. Perhaps the home secretary has it confused with the highway code. Most drivers have broken the highway code before now, once or twice, normally for speeding. You are, in a sense, kind of allowed to break it a maximum of once every three years, by paying a fine and attending a speed awareness course.

The ministerial code isn’t like that. If you break it just once, you resign. As Suella Braverman when she resigned as home secretary eight months ago, before somehow being reappointed as home secretary less than a week later.

In some ways it’s a relief that in the end the home secretary just decided to take the points and pay the fine. A big part of the speed awareness course, if memory serves correctly, is having to tell the other attendees what you did wrong. 45mph in a temporary 40mph limit, that kind of thing.

Attending a speed awareness course is a pain in the arse. That is kind of the point. A pain in the arse that would certainly be made more painful if one of the attendees, the home secretary, say, sat there for a full two hours, just flat out refusing to admit she’d done anything wrong, or just ignoring the questions altogether.

Can you imagine? “Okay, I’m going to show you some photographs of roads and you have to tell me what you think the speed limit is on each one. Right, Suella in Westminster, Picture 1, what do you think?

“Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the points. At no point did I seek to to avoid sanction.”

“Okay, erm. Is it a) 20mph, b) 30mph, c) 40mph or d) national speed limit applies?”

“Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the points. At no point did I seek to to avoid sanction.”

The trouble is, if she had an innocent explanation, she must also know that Rishi Sunak wouldn’t have to be getting his ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus involved as well. Not that he especially cares, one would think, if there’s an innocent explanation or not.

It’s just that he obviously knew that, after Suella Braverman’s hour of not answering the question, it would be his turn at the despatch box of the House of Commons to now answer the question too. And so, very obviously, he needed to have an investigation underway for him to hide behind, which he duly did.

When Braverman sat down, the prime minister slapped her on the back to congratulate her for not having answered the question as many times as she had.

Within about three minutes, he was asked as well: “I have asked for further information and I will update on the appropriate course of action in due course,” he said.

Just, you know, to be clear, he tossed out this word salad while the person he needs to “ask for further information” was sitting next to him. The “appropriate course of action” isn’t a mystery either.

Once upon a time, you had to hire expensive consultants to guide you through this kind of crisis management. Experts in how to build a wall of deception, to provide you with cover. This government have now done it so many times, one after the other, after the other, that your average eight-year-old knows exactly what they’re up to.

And yes, all this is very boring. Suella Braverman getting done for speeding really doesn’t matter very much. But asking the civil service to connive a way for you to take the easy way out (the speed awareness course), but without doing the difficult bit – doing it in front of other people – does matter.

And what does matter, yet again, is the bald faced lying involved. Alright, well, not lying, but as has already been pointed out many times, there’s a reason that criminals in courts are asked to promise to tell not merely the truth but “the whole truth”. And if not telling the “whole truth” counts in a court of law as breaking the oath, then what does it mean at the despatch box of the House of Commons?

There is nothing, as it happens, in the ministerial code, about “lying” to the House of Commons. The wording it uses is to “knowingly mislead”. And so what is it, exactly, when you’re asked 11 times whether you asked your civil servants to find you an easy way around your speeding fine and each time you refuse to answer?

There are no points when it comes to the ministerial code. You can’t rack up a certain number of low- level offences which expire over time, or can be traded in for a fine and a morning’s inconvenience in a seminar room at a cheap hotel.

And yet, somehow, Braverman’s on at least her second and quite probably her third in under a year. It’s almost as if the rules don’t apply to her.

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