Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of making “a grubby deal” with Suella Braverman to reappoint her, thus jeopardising national security and exacerbating the asylum crisis, in another prime minister’s questions dominated by the issue of the home secretary’s future.
The Labour leader used all his questions on Wednesday in his second face-off against Sunak to target the new prime minister over delays in the processing of asylum claims, conditions at the Manston camp in Kent and to question why Braverman remains in her job.
Starmer accused Sunak of bringing back Braverman, only days after Truss had sacked her for a data security breach, so as to secure her support in his bid to replace Truss as prime minister without a full vote of Conservative members.
“He did a grubby deal with her, putting her in charge of Britain’s security just so he could dodge an election,” Starmer said. “She’s broken the ministerial code, lost control of a refugee centre and put our security at risk. She did get one thing right – she finally admitted that the Tories have broken the asylum system.
“So why doesn’t he get a proper home secretary, scrap the Rwandan gimmick, crack down on smuggling gangs, end the small boat crossings, speed up asylum claims and agree an international deal on refugees? Start governing for once and get a grip.”
In response, Sunak said Labour’s asylum and immigration policy was “a blank page”, and that Starmer had threatened national security by supporting Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
In a sign of the continued precariousness of Braverman’s position, Starmer repeatedly linked her reappointment to the wider issues over small boat crossings and delays in sorting asylum claims. He asked Sunak what percentage of arrivals on small boats across the Channel had asylum claims processed last year, and on not being given an answer said it was just 4%.
“According to the bookies, the home secretary has a better chance of becoming the next Tory leader than she has of processing an asylum claim in a year,” Starmer said. “They’re only taking half the number of asylum decisions that they used to. That’s why the system is broken – 4,000 people at the Manston air force base, massively overcrowded, all sorts of diseases breaking out.”
The Labour leader pressed Sunak on whether Braverman had ignored legal advice that people should be moved out of the Manston centre, which is meant to process arrivals within 24 hours, into hotels. The prime minister said he was unable to comment on legal guidance.
Starmer responded: “The answer to the question whether the home secretary received legal advice to move people out of Manston is yes. He just hasn’t got the guts to say.”
Sunak did defend his home secretary. In an initial question from the Labour MP Meg Hiller, she asked him: “What will she actually have to do to get the sack?”
Sunak replied: “The home secretary made an error of judgment but she recognised her mistake and took accountability for her actions.”