U.K. Home Secretary Stirs Political Storm After Writing Article Attacking the Police


One of Britain’s most senior cabinet ministers, Suella Braverman, has triggered political turmoil by writing a newspaper article that attacked the country’s largest police force over its approach to a pro-Palestinian protest, and implicitly challenged the authority of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Ms. Braverman, the home secretary responsible for law enforcement, immigration and national security, has long been a divisive figure at the heart of the governing Conservative Party, whose provocative rhetoric has won support on the hard right while alienating more moderate colleagues.

On Thursday, there were calls for her resignation after she wrote an opinion piece for The Times of London that accused the city’s main police force of bias in its reluctance to ban a pro-Palestinian protest march scheduled for the weekend.

She also described the tens of thousands of people who have attended regular Saturday protests in London in support of Palestinians as “hate marchers,” “Islamists” and “mobs,” despite the fact that the demonstrations have been mostly peaceful.

The marches were not “merely a cry for help for Gaza,” she wrote, but “an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.”

The reference to Northern Ireland, making rhetorical use of sectarian tensions in a region where efforts to restore a power-sharing government have so far failed, also provoked anger.

The article was published without the prime minister’s authorization, a spokesman for Mr. Sunak said.

The article has created a dilemma for Mr. Sunak, who on Thursday appeared to be weighing whether to keep his disruptive home secretary in her job. He is already grappling with a stubborn double-digit deficit in the polls, a stagnant economy and a restive party that senses its 13-year grip on power is slipping. Ms. Braverman is viewed as a possible candidate to replace Mr. Sunak as party leader if he fails to win a looming general election next year, and could be a dangerous critic if she loses her job.

The opinion piece centered on a pro-Palestinian march scheduled to take place in London on Saturday, which will coincide with Armistice Day, when Britain commemorates those who fought in World War I and subsequent conflicts. Ms. Braverman and Mr. Sunak had previously called for the march to be banned, with the prime minister describing its timing as “provocative and disrespectful.”

But on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Sunak won assurances from the police that all possible steps would be taken to prevent disorder, and he issued a statement confirming the right to peaceful protest and pledging to “remain true to our principles.”

Within hours, the article by Ms. Braverman appeared to undermine his stance.

Political analysts said there was little mystery about the motives of Ms. Braverman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Conservative Party leadership last year.

“She seems to be absolutely addicted to making headlines,” said Jill Rutter, a former senior British civil servant senior research fellow at U.K. in a Changing Europe, a research institute. “She just seems to be trying to push the envelope as to how far she can go.”

One school of thought was that Ms. Braverman was goading Mr. Sunak to fire her in order to become a “martyr of the right,” Ms. Rutter said, adding: “Almost all of this is positioning for future leadership battles, and she’s been doing that for quite some time, and sees herself probably in poll position to lead the Conservatives after the next election.”

On Thursday morning, Downing Street said Mr. Sunak had confidence in Ms. Braverman but that it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the article’s publication.

Under British law, the police can only apply to ban a protest if there is a risk of serious public disorder. In this case, Britain’s most senior police officer had said the potential for disorder did not meet the threshold, though he noted that could change.

Adam Wagner, a lawyer and expert on protest law, said that if the police had tried to ban Saturday’s march without sufficient evidence, they could have been challenged in the courts and most likely would have lost.

Yvette Cooper, a lawmaker who speaks on home affairs for the opposition Labour Party, told Parliament on Thursday that Ms. Braverman was “deliberately undermining respect for the police” and inflaming community tensions. She described Ms. Braverman’s comments as “highly irresponsible and dangerous.” Bob Neill, a Conservative Party lawmaker, told Times Radio that Ms. Braverman had “got it badly wrong.”

Ms. Braverman has a track record of using divisive language and has embraced several hard-right tropes in past statements, describing mass migration as a “hurricane,” the arrival of asylum seekers on the British coast in small boats as an “invasion” and homelessness as a “lifestyle choice.” Last weekend, she suggested imposing restrictions on charities who offer tents to those living on the streets.

For Mr. Sunak, managing Ms. Braverman’s political pyrotechnics presents difficulties because of her popularity on the right of the Conservative Party, which has little love for him.

Her support helped ensure Mr. Sunak became prime minister last year in the chaotic aftermath of Liz Truss’s disastrous tenure in Downing Street.

David Gauke, a former Conservative cabinet minister and the author of “The Case for the Centre Right,” said Ms. Braverman was not deliberately goading Mr. Sunak to fire her, but that she would not be worried about that prospect.

“I think she wants to be the candidate of the right if the Conservatives lose the next election,” Mr. Gauke said. “I don’t think she deliberately wants to be fired — it’s about raising her profile. Though I think she would rather be fired than resign.”

Complicating things further, Mr. Sunak seems to agree with Ms. Braverman on the substance of several of her main policies, including a contentious plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. With his party trailing badly in opinion polls, he has promoted several socially conservative issues in an apparent attempt to galvanize right-wing voters.

Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said that Ms. Braverman’s comments might, in fact, damage her future leadership prospects by raising questions about her reliability with those on the party’s right.

In the meantime, she remains an acute problem for Mr. Sunak, as he struggles to decide how much heckling from the sidelines to tolerate.

“She was always a bit of a loose cannon, but she seems to be firing off in all directions,” Professor Bale said. “I think it’s beginning to look like a deliberate challenge to his authority.”


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *