Suella Braverman “did not see, sign off or sanction” an email sent out to Tory members in her name attacking civil servants, Downing Street has said.
The email blaming an “an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party” for blocking previous attempts to tackle illegal migration, signed by the Home Secretary, has drawn widespread criticism.
Ms Braverman was accused of potentially breaking ministerial rules by questioning the impartiality of public servants in the Conservative Party message, which followed the publication of the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill.
No 10 sought to distance her from the campaign communication, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s press secretary telling reporters on Wednesday: “She did not see, sign off or sanction that email being sent out.”
Not only is the Home Secretary’s cowardly attack on the impartiality and integrity of the civil service a transparent attempt to deflect from her govt’s own policy failings, but it is also a clear breach of the Ministerial Code. My letter to the Prime Minister. pic.twitter.com/y2tjY9I6Pq
— Dave Penman (@FDAGenSec) March 8, 2023
Mrs Braverman later confirmed that the email was sent in error and said she had been “incredibly impressed” with the dedication and hard work of officials in the Home Office.
“I didn’t write that email, I didn’t see it. It was an error really that it was sent out,” she told ITV’s Peston show.
The Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), which distributed the email, admitted that “the wording wasn’t seen by the Home Secretary” and said it is “reviewing” its internal clearance processes.
Mr Sunak’s press secretary indicated there had been “operational issues” at CCHQ that “we’ll have to review”.
“Obviously there would have to be ministerial sign-off usually on things where their name is included on it or it goes out in their name,” she said, suggesting that on this occasion the process was not followed.
She stressed that Ms Braverman “had a busy day” launching the legislation designed to toughen asylum rules and deter migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats.
Asked if CCHQ had apologised to the Home Secretary for the blunder, the press secretary said she was not aware of any further “conversations” with Ms Braverman.
The remarks in the fundraising message appeared to prompt anger among Home Office staff, who have since received an email from Ms Braverman praising them for their work.
One called the accusation that civil servants had scuppered asylum policy a “slanderous claim”, according to a screenshot of an anonymous internal Q&A shared on Twitter by Sam Freedman, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government.
A Government source said: “Civil service leadership acted quickly to raise and address this issue. You’ve seen the subsequent words from CCHQ and yesterday the Home Secretary thanked the Home Office teams for all their work on the Bill.”
Earlier, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said the email amounted to a “direct attack on the integrity and impartiality” of public servants working in the Home Office.
In a letter to Mr Sunak, Mr Penman raised the possibility that Ms Braverman had broken the Ministerial Code, the rules which govern behaviour of those on the Government front bench.
He said: “I cannot see how the Home Secretary’s statement to Conservative Party members can be reconciled with her obligations under the code,” which states that “ministers must uphold the political impartiality of the civil service”.
Mr Penman called for Mr Sunak to ensure the “statement is publicly withdrawn as a matter of urgency” and that Ms Braverman apologises to staff.
Civil service union Prospect sent its own letter to the Prime Minister accusing Ms Braverman of breaching the ministerial rules.
“Playing politics with those dedicated to serving the government of the day is completely unacceptable,” general secretary Mike Clancy wrote, urging Mr Sunak “to take decisive action regarding this matter, to ensure there is a retraction and an apology given”.
The Liberal Democrats have called on Mr Sunak’s ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, to launch an official investigation into whether Ms Braverman breached the ministerial code.
The party’s Cabinet Office spokeswoman, Christine Jardine, said: “Ministers are expected to respect the impartiality of the civil servants, and be professional and respectful towards them. Braverman’s comments have fallen way short of those standards by attacking civil servants and dragging them into deluded Conservative Party conspiracy theories.”
She also urged the Prime Minister to sack the Home Secretary if she is found to have broken the code.
Mr Sunak reinstalled Ms Braverman in his Cabinet days after she was forced to resign, having been found to have breached ministerial rules by sending a sensitive document to a backbench Tory MP through a private email address.