How an almighty migration row led Suella Braverman to turn against Liz Truss

·6-min read
Suella Braverman - AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Suella Braverman - AP Photo/Kin Cheung

The fuse for Suella Braverman’s resignation was lit on Tuesday night when she had a heated face-to-face row with Liz Truss and Jeremy Hunt, her new Chancellor, over their demands to soften her stance on bringing down immigration.

Friends said the Home Secretary was appalled that they wanted her to announce a liberalisation of immigration to make it easier for the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to say the Government would hit its growth targets - a key plank in Mr Hunt’s strategy to restore market confidence.

“Suella said, this is insane, why are we trying to appease the OBR? Is everything getting thrown out the window?” said one of her allies.

Just two weeks earlier, Ms Braverman had told the Conservative conference she was committed to the party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to bring down migration, and even resurrected Theresa May’s ambition of reducing it to “tens of thousands”.

Within 24 hours of her “fiery” 90-minute meeting with the Prime Minister and Mr Hunt, Ms Braverman had been forced to resign after being accused of breaching the ministerial code on two counts for sending official documents to another MP from her personal email.

Her concerns about watering down immigration targets are now expected to form the basis of what could be an incendiary resignation statement to the House of Commons in the next 48 hours or early next week.

Her departure removes one of the standard bearers of the Tory right just 24 hours after Ms Truss had met members of the European Research Group (ERG) on Tuesday to shore up her support on the Eurosceptic right. It followed a similar meeting with MPs on the centrist One Nation group on Monday.

It now poses a threat to the future of the Prime Minister after Ms Braverman used her resignation letter to say she had “concerns” about the direction of the Government and the breaches of its manifesto commitments on immigration.

However, the most incendiary was a coded attack on Ms Truss’s integrity in which the Prime Minister's former leadership rival said “the business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes”.

“Pretending we haven't made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can't see we have made them and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics. I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign.”

It had been intended at the start of the week that Ms Braverman would set out the new immigration policy on Thursday with a meeting of the Cabinet’s home affairs committee, with Mr Hunt, Therese Coffey, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other senior ministers due to finalise the plans on Wednesday lunchtime.

However, Mrs Braverman never attended the meeting after sending an email on Wednesday morning intended for Sir John Hayes, the chairman of the Common Sense group of Tory MPs, containing Government documents about immigration.

The Home Secretary accidentally clicked on the wrong drop-down tab on her email and sent the document from her personal email address to a staffer who works for Tory MP Andrew Percy.

Mr Percy then complained to Wendy Morton, the Government’s Chief Whip, who reported the leak to the Cabinet Office, before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, investigated and rapidly concluded Ms Braverman had broken the ministerial code on two counts.

One was on part 2.14 of the code, the “security of government business”. That section says “ministers have an important role to play in maintaining the security of Government business”.

The other was 2.3, “collective responsibility”. That states “the internal process through which a decision has been made, or the level of Committee by which it was taken should not be disclosed”.

Ms Truss then confronted Ms Braverman with the findings. She made clear what should follow from ministerial rule breaches, according to allies, leaving Ms Braverman to resign.

There is a dispute over the nature of the documents that she emailed. Ms Braverman maintains it was a draft written ministerial statement (WMS), due for publication imminently and much of which had already been briefed to MPs.

Downing Street sources were, however, incensed by the claim that it was only a WMS which was made public. Instead, the sources said it was the contents of a sensitive internal policy document that Ms Braverman had passed on.

Allies of Ms Braverman said she was told by Ms Truss that if the Government defended her, it would be at risk of “salami slicing” by critics trying to pick off ministers.

“Liz says: ‘If you stay, we’ll have to defend you and it will salami slice our credibility. For your own sake you should go’,” said one ally.

“Suella thought ‘are you serious, you’re not even going to defend anyone over anything?’ She said: ‘Fine, if you won't stand up for me, I’ll go’.”

The row meant that Ms Truss had to pull out of a visit to a venue near London. Ministers briefed privately that she was detained on a “national security issue".

Within two hours Ms Braverman had quit, posting her resignation letter on Twitter and, in so doing, becoming the shortest-serving home secretary in modern political history at just 43 days.

Allies of Ms Braverman said she was in a minority in Cabinet in her attempts to resist liberalising migration to boost growth and the arrival of Mr Hunt as Chancellor appeared to reinforce that majority. In his leadership bid in 2019, he vowed to abandon Mrs May’s immigration target of tens of thousands.

“The economic departments were most definitely winning, no questions about that,” said one of the former home secretary’s allies. “They were quite clear: ‘More migration equals more growth.’ The number of people who are of the opposite view around the Cabinet table is not that many.

“Suella was one of them who had been fervently advising against the relaxation of immigration for growth. She has been very robust in conversations I have had with her about that.”

Ms Braverman’s refusal to accept an “open borders migration policy” with India proved one flashpoint - and was blamed by critics for delaying efforts to secure a trade deal with the second most populous nation in the world.

She was also resisting proposals to increase the cap on foreign seasonal agricultural workers from 40,000 to 60,000 and rejected demands for more visas from business ministers for foreign florists, hairdressers and town planners.

“In the absence of automation on farms, we need more seasonal foreign workers. It’s either that or letting food rot in the ground,” said one Cabinet minister.

“The Home Office needs to accept that while we don’t want to have cheap labour, we have to tackle the labour shortages holding back growth. I don’t think the Home Office wants to be a roadblock to growth. Allowing short-term visas and visits seems to be very sensible.”

Migration has already hit a new high as more than one million foreign nationals were allowed to live, work or study in the UK in a year for the first time.

Commenting on the new strategy, an ally of Mrs Braverman observed: “The rhetoric is that it’s high skilled not low skilled but in terms of absolute numbers, it’s definitely increased migration.”