Suella Braverman has grown increasingly isolated as chancellor Jeremy Hunt distanced himself from the home secretary’s allegations of police bias over pro-Palestine protests.
Facing pressure to sack Braverman, Rishi Sunak continued to express his confidence in her, but No 10 declined to say whether the pair had spoken since her inflammatory unauthorised article.
No 10 said they were working “very closely” ahead of Saturday’s march, but chose not to repeat her widely-criticised language in a piece for the Times.
She claimed there is a perception police “play favourites” towards pro-Palestinian protesters who are “largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law”.
The article prompted frustration and concern among Conservative MPs and sparked calls for the Prime Minister to dismiss her for failing to get sign-off from No 10.
Hunt said he has a “productive relationship” with Braverman, but signalled Cabinet unease by telling reporters “the words that she used are not words that I myself would have used”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman declined to endorse the home secretary’s comments and stressed that it is for police to “make operational decisions” surrounding protests.
The official said the Prime Minister “has confidence” in Braverman, but did not rule out a Cabinet reshuffle, saying she would not discuss “speculation”.
The spokeswoman repeatedly chose not to say whether the pair had spoken, but insisted “they work very closely, as they have been on protests and preparations for the weekend”.
The home secretary’s actions have added to tension around the march planned for Saturday – Armistice Day – by pro-Palestinian groups, and the risk of counter-protests, particularly around the Cenotaph, even though the demonstration is not expected to go near the monument.
Sunak will need to decide whether the home secretary’s actions breached the ministerial code and, if so, whether he should sack her.
Senior officers and the head of the Crown Prosecution Service stressed the need for the police to be able to operate independently without political interference.
Education minister Robert Halfon said Braverman has a “unique way of expressing herself” but would not say whether he agreed with Braverman’s assessment of alleged police bias.
“The home secretary has been doing her job and of course I respect that, but of course, the focus has got to be to ensure that the Remembrance services go ahead peacefully and securely this weekend,” he told LBC.
No 10 was still internally investigating the “details” about how the article – which contained a comparison between “pro-Palestinian mobs” and marches in Northern Ireland – was sent for publication. He has not referred the matter to ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus.
It is understood that the article was submitted to No 10 but did not get signed off as significant alterations were requested. The piece was published nonetheless.
Opposition parties called on Sunak to sack the home secretary, with Labour calling him “spineless” for failing to act.
Even some Conservative MPs believe that Braverman has gone too far.
Justice Committee chairman Tory Sir Bob Neill said on LBC her position was “untenable”.
A Conservative former Cabinet minister said that Sunak should consider dismissing her if he cannot resolve the situation, as the row “undermines” the Tory party.
And Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the influential backbench Tory 1922 Committee, suggested “we cannot carry on as we are” with Braverman as home secretary, and Sunak may be forced to act.
“I think he will certainly want to have a very serious conversation with her to seek an undertaking from her that either she will handle it in a calmer, private way in the future or possibly consider it’s time for her to move to another job in the Cabinet,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
But Braverman has supporters on the right of the party and any move against her by Sunak could deepen divisions within Tory ranks.
Tory MP Miriam Cates told Today: “I think the home secretary has a view that is very mainstream in the rest of the UK.”
There is long-standing speculation at Westminster that Sunak will carry out a major ministerial reshuffle ahead of the general election expected next year, which could see Braverman moved.
More immediately, the Supreme Court will next week rule whether Government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are lawful.
There has been speculation that the Prime Minister may want to wait for that decision on the flagship project championed by Braverman before embarking on any reshuffle.
The row comes with only a day to go until tens of thousands of people take to the streets for the pro-Palestinian march.
Braverman’s article reflected her frustration with Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley, who has resisted pressure from senior Tories to ban the demonstration in the capital.
Gavin Stephens, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said that political views could not be allowed to influence decision making.
“The decisions that we take are not easy ones, but we do so impartially, without fear or favour, and in line with both the law and our authorised professional practice,” he said.
Steve Hartshorn, national chairman of the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers, told Today that officers feared being caught between a rock and a hard place over the pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day.
He said: “I can pretty much guarantee this weekend, if things go different to plan and it’s not safe, it will be police officers that get injured, members of the public, that will then be blamed on the police.
“We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Parkinson wrote in the Telegraph that “effective and fair justice requires independent institutions to apply the law without fear or favour”.
He added: “Throughout this challenging period, the police have undoubtedly carried out their role with independence, resilience and grit.”
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