Suella Braverman accused of 'cowardly attack' on civil servants after letter blames them for inaction on small boat crossings

The home secretary has been accused of carrying out a "cowardly attack" on civil servants after an email to Tory supporters blamed them for blocking the government from halting small boat crossings.

The email said an "activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party" prevented the government from stopping migrants coming to the UK on small boats.

Dave Penman, head of the FDA civil servants union, has accused Suella Braverman of a "clear breach of the ministerial code" and called on Rishi Sunak to withdraw the statement and get the home secretary to apologise to all civil servants.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, also said the home secretary's words were "disgraceful and disrespectful" but "comes as no surprise to us".

Leaders clash over small boats bill - latest politics updates

Mr Penman has written to Mr Sunak accusing Ms Braverman of carrying out "a cowardly attack on the impartiality and integrity of the civil service, a transparent attempt to deflect from her government's own policy failings".

Moments after announcing the new Illegal Migration Bill on Tuesday, an email to Tory supporters from Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) signed by Ms Braverman, said: "We tried to stop the small boat crossings without changing our laws.

"But an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party blocked us.

"So today we're changing our laws - and bringing the small boat crossings to an end."

The Conservative Party has said the home secretary did not see the wording of the email before it was sent out.

A spokesman said: "This was a CCHQ email and the wording wasn't seen by the home secretary. We are now reviewing our internal clearance processes."

Mr Penman's letter to Mr Sunak said it was an "extraordinary statement" from a home secretary and said civil servants are there to "advise and ministers decide".

"Not only is this statement factually incorrect, but the tone of that paragraph and the brigading of civil servants with the Labour Party and 'left-wing lawyers' is a direct attack on the integrity and impartiality of the thousands of civil servants who loyally serve the home secretary, doing some of the most complex and difficult work in government," he said.

"The cowardly attack on civil servants, whom the home secretary knows are unable to publicly defend themselves, also risks further stoking tensions over a matter which has previously resulted in violent clashes with protesters."

He said Home Office staff have been advised to take security precautions "to avoid being identified" over the issue.

The Lib Dems have written to Mr Sunak's ethics adviser calling for an inquiry into whether Ms Braverman has breached the ministerial code over the attack on civil servants.

Read more:
Is the government's new Illegal Migration Bill legal?

Mr Sunak repeated the jibe against "leftie lawyers" as he sparred with Sir Keir Starmer during Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions.

In a comment to Sky News, the PCS union's Mr Serwotka added: "The home secretary's disgraceful and disrespectful comments come as no surprise to us.

"Her government has, for years, treated hard-working civil servants with disdain and contempt, taking them for granted

"Rather than insulting our members and questioning their integrity, Suella Braverman should be encouraging the prime minister to give civil servants a fair pay rise to help them through the cost of living crisis and beyond."

Civil servant members of the Public and Commercial Services Union are due to go on strike next week on budget day in a dispute over pay, pensions and job security.

A total of 133,000 civil servants will be walking out, but the government has said their demands are unaffordable.