‘Not words I would have used’: Chancellor distances himself after Home Secretary accused police of protest bias

10 November 2023, 10:11 | Updated: 10 November 2023, 13:32

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has distanced himself from the Home Secretary's comments
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has distanced himself from the Home Secretary's comments. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Asher McShane

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has distanced himself from controversial comments about policing made by Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

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Mr Hunt told reporters today: "As many other Cabinet ministers have said, the words that she used are not words that I myself would have used.

"But I have a productive relationship with her as a colleague and I have always given her the money that she needs to fund police, bring down crime and to fund the immigration and asylum system."

"The Prime Minister has said that he has full confidence in her," he added.

Ms Braverman has been accused of stirring up far-right sentiment with comments about the pro-Palestine protest planned for this Saturday, with an article written on Wednesday night.

Downing Street said on Thursday that it did not clear her piece accusing police of "playing favourites" with protesters, but that Mr Sunak still has confidence in the Home Secretary.

But the Prime Minister is said to be considering Ms Braverman's future, and considering the possibility of bringing forward a Cabinet reshuffle previously slated for before Christmas.

Ms Braverman's comments split the Conservative Party, with some MPs privately voicing outrage over their tone and content, while others gave her their backing.

Conservative MP Sir Bob Neill told LBC that Ms Braverman had "compromised her position" with the article.

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman. Picture: Getty

He told LBC's Andrew Marr: "I think if actually he lances a boil here, he will have the support of the vast majority of backbenchers and actually our party members in the country.

"Although we are a broad church, we still do respect loyalty. And the loyalty comes from people who are entrusted with positions by the Prime Minister, then to behave professionally."

One Tory told LBC's Natasha Clark that he thought Mr Sunak would fire her. The MP said that he himself "had enough of her not toeing the line".

He added: "We can't have someone inside the tent constantly p****** on everyone inside the tent. The right of the party do not love Suella."

A Cabinet minister told the Times that Ms Braverman was "stupid".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday. Picture: Getty

They said: "She has been a totally useless minister and is now making the mistake of believing her own publicity. She is toast."

A Conservative former Cabinet minister also said Mr Sunak should consider sacking her if he cannot resolve the situation, because the row "undermines" the Tory party.

The MP said: "Everybody says she's trying to get fired or is testing her leadership prospects. The truth is she's offending far more people than she's impressing.

"If that's her strategy, it's not a very clever one. I think it's undermining, frankly, it undermines our seriousness."

Asked what Mr Sunak should do, the MP said: "He has to call her in and talk to her. If that doesn't work, he should move her."

Tory MP Sir Bob Neill tells Andrew Marr that Suella Braverman’s position is 'untenable'

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Thursday morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper refused three times to back the language used by Ms Braverman.

But the Home Secretary still retains the support of some MPs on the right of the Conservative Party.

Alexander Stafford told LBC's Ben Kentish on Thursday evening that Ms Braverman was "doing a very good job."

He added: "She is out there speaking her mind telling people what she sees, I think that's quite refreshing and she has a long future in the Conservative party."

Mr Stafford said: "I don't think she is inflaming any sort of tension. It's her job, when you see something wrong, to call it out publicly."

Tom Swarbrick and caller discuss whether Suella Braverman should be sacked

And Lee Anderson, the party's deputy chairman, said Ms Braverman was “only saying what most people are thinking," the Times reported.

The main opposition parties have also suggested that Rishi Sunak should fire Ms Braverman.

Labour also pointed out that she had broken the ministerial code, which is a written document setting out standards of conduct expected of ministers. Ms Braverman has already resigned as Home Secretary once for breaching the ministerial code, in her first stint as Home Secretary under Liz Truss last year.

Downing Street is conducting an internal investigation into whether Ms Braverman broke the code by not getting her article signed off fully. If it finds there was a breach, Mr Sunak may either demand an apology, or fire her.

Pro-Palestinian Activists Stage Protest Marches In The UK
Pro-Palestinian Activists Stage Protest Marches In The UK. Picture: Getty

But some have suggested that the Prime Minister could wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on the legality of the government's scheme to move migrants to Rwanda, which is on November 15.

One Conservative close to Mr Sunak told the Times: "The bigger problem is the fact that we’ve got the Rwanda ruling next Wednesday. Surely people will want that to be finished before moving forward.

"You’d want to know the outcome of that before deciding what kind of home secretary you want going forward."

It is unclear who would replace Ms Braverman. Tory sources suggested that immigration minister Robert Jenrick could be promoted from within the Home Office.

Other names proposed include deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, junior Treasury minister Victoria Atkins, security minister Tom Tugendhat and minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin.

Pro-Palestinian protesters attend a rally close to Downing Street
Pro-Palestinian protesters attend a rally close to Downing Street. Picture: Getty

Ms Braverman has already courted controversy in recent days with her comments that living on the streets was a "lifestyle choice". Several Cabinet ministers distanced themselves from her remarks on that occasion.

Some have suggested that Ms Braverman may be trying to be sacked, in order to stand down and prepare a run as Conservative leader after the next general election.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Home Secretary was "out of control" and called the PM "too weak to do anything about it," adding that this was "the worst of all combinations."

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman. Picture: Getty

He said: "And that's why across the country, repeatedly, people are coming up to me and saying we just need change now. We've just had enough of this."

Sir Keir called Ms Braverman "divisive" and said she was "stoking up tension at the very time we should be trying to reduce tension.

"She is doing the complete opposite of what I think most people in this country would see as the proper role of the Home Secretary," the Labour leader told broadcasters.

Sir Keir said this was "compounded by the fact that we've got a Prime Minister who's too weak to do anything about it," adding: "That's the worst of all circumstances for so many people across the country, it's the worst of all circumstances for the police."

Keir Starmer said Rishi Sunak was weak
Keir Starmer said Rishi Sunak was weak. Picture: Getty

Asked if Ms Braverman should quit, he said: "I think the question really is for the Prime Minister, he must know that this isn't the way that a Home Secretary should behave.

"He must know in himself that the role of responsible government is to reduce tension and to support police in the difficult decisions they have to make."

Labour shadow Cabinet minister Pat McFadden wrote to the Prime Minister claiming Ms Braverman broke the ministerial code.

The opposition's national campaign co-ordinator said: "The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has confirmed that the Home Secretary’s article was not cleared by No 10.

"Article 8.2 of the Ministerial code says all such interventions have to be cleared.

Former police watchdog slams Braverman over protest policing comments

"Given it wasn’t cleared, what will he do now?"

He said in the letter: "To say that the article was not cleared and then do nothing about it would strip you of all authority over the home secretary and leave her free to continue to say and do whatever she likes."

Mr McFadden said that the position of Home Secretary "should not be used as a platform to foment division or to run a nascent campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party".

He added: "The article is an extraordinary attack on the operational independence of the police, accusing them of 'playing favourites' in the policing of demonstrations and operating with a 'double standard'.

Israeli attacks continue on Thursday night
Israeli attacks continue on Thursday night. Picture: Getty

A spokesman said the Prime Minister still has "full confidence" in the Home Secretary and "continues to believe that the police will operate without fear or favour".

He declined to say whether the pair have a "good working relationship", instead saying: "They continue to work closely."

No10 added that it was "important to consider language carefully".

Read more: Suella Braverman accused of stoking tensions with 'unprecedented and worrying' comments on Armistice Day protest

Mark Harper on Suella Braverman calling pro-Palestine protesters 'hate marchers'

Former Met Police superintendent Dal Babu told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that the intervention by Suella Braverman was "unprecedented."

The November 11 march, on which protesters will again call for a ceasefire in Gaza, has been controversial because it coincides with the day of solemn remembrance for Britain's war dead.

"I've never known a situation like this where someone in the great state office of Home Secretary is having a very, very open disagreement with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police around an operational matter," the former top cop told LBC.

He told Nick the matter was one for the police who would have access to intelligence to enable them to make a decision on the level of response needed.

"This is an operational policing matter, the police will have the intelligence, they'll have the understanding of what is an effective strategy."

Mr Babu went on to accuse Ms Braverman of inflaming tensions with her public discourse of the matter, telling Nick it should have been discussed in private.

"What's happened is this has been ramped up by the Home Secretary and we have seen an unprecedented, open discussion in the public. These matters are normally discussed in private, and the politicians take the advice of the police," the ex-officer said.

"I think this is very worrying."

Former HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor told Nick: "It is a very extraordinary, unusual, unprecedented intervention by the Home Secretary, which is contrary to the spirits of the ancient constitutional settlement between the government and the police"

Palestinians continue to migrate from north to south
Palestinians continue to migrate from north to south. Picture: Getty

Ms Braverman said in her article on Wednesday that the marches were "problematic" and represented "an assertion of primacy" by extremists.

She also said there was a "perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters".

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman. Picture: Getty

The demonstrators will not go past the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the march will take place after the two-minute silence at 11am.

Concerns have been raised that the march could attract far-right protesters and descend into violence.

But police chief Sir Mark Rowley has said that his force does not have enough intelligence that there will be serious disorder to ban the protest.

Rishi Sunak said that the march was "disrespectful" but that it should go ahead because of the freedom to protest enjoyed by people living in the UK.

Ms Braverman said earlier this week that some elements of the protests that have taken place every Saturday since October 14 had turned into "hate marches".

Hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march with placards and flags
Hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march with placards and flags. Picture: Alamy

Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve said that the Home Secretary's comments about the march were inappropriate.

He told LBC's Ben Kentish: "She is under a duty as home secretary in the minister of the crown, to uphold people's lawful rights, which includes people's lawful rights to demonstrate peacefully and within the law.

"And the fact that she may personally dislike the nature of the demonstration, or indeed many others in government might also dislike the nature of the demonstration isn't the issue.

"The issue is can this demonstration take place pieces peaceably? And has it been properly organised? Those are questions for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, not for her."

Mr Grieve added: "Of course, the police do have a duty to make sure that those marches are within the law and are not used as a vehicle for hate speech or anti-Semitism.

Pro-Palestinian activists in London
Pro-Palestinian activists in London. Picture: Getty

"But the nature of these demonstrations, even if you might think they're misplaced, are perfectly legitimate, namely, to raise people's concerns about the numbers of civilians being killed in Gaza or for that matter to call for a ceasefire.

"These are not unlawful things for people to seek, even if some people might think that they're mistaken in doing it, and therefore to translate her duty as Home Secretary, which is to uphold the rule of law, including the right of people under the rule of law to demonstrate peacefully, with her own personal views is plainly wrong."

Conservative former housing minister Gavin Barwell said that Ms Braverman was "retoxifying" the Conservative party with her comments.

Baroness Warsi, a Conservative peer, said Ms Braverman "had lit the touch paper and ignited community tensions" with her remarks.

"Couching the planned demonstration as 'armistice day vs a hate march,' she has pitched community against community and set a noisy call for peace against a quiet moment of reflection to mark the war," Baroness Warsi wrote in the Evening Standard.

Meanwhile Neil Basu, the Met's former assistant commissioner, said that rhetoric from Ms Braverman may be serving to incite violence, despite only a "small minority" of people attending pro-Palestinian marches being "extremist".

He told LBC's Andrew Marr on Wednesday: "We've already heard that Tommy Robinson, the EDL, football hooligans [are going to counter-protest].

Ex-Met Commissioner Assistant says pressuring Mark Rowley to ban the protest could be 'unlawful act'

He added: "Now, the thing about the rhetoric of hate marches is, if I look at the number of arrests that have been made in the marches to date, against the number of people who have marched, I'm not sure on the maths on this, and I don't know the exact arrest figures, or the exact marches figures, but it might be the first time there is a literal translation of the expression that 99.99% of people who are marching have done nothing wrong…

Mr Basu said: there's a couple of very obvious things anyone talking about this subject should say, Hamas are terrorists. Hamas committed an inexcusable atrocity on the 7th of October, but 99.99% of people in those marches, they're not supporting Hamas or a terrorist organisation.

"There may well be a few extremists or a few people glorifying terrorism, and the police should deal with those, and my understanding is they are dealing with those. But as a percentage of the march, it's tiny, and policing has to be able to deal with that in a liberal democracy to allow protests to go ahead."

The protests have been going in London every Saturday since Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israel in a terror attack, and Israel responded. More than 10,000 people in Gaza have been killed in Israel's retaliatory bombardments and ground invasion of the territory.

A pro-Palestinian protester in London on Saturday
A pro-Palestinian protester in London on Saturday. Picture: Getty

The protesters are calling for a ceasefire, which Hamas has said it would not respect. Neither the British government nor the Labour party have advocated for a ceasefire, calling instead for 'humanitarian pauses' to help aid get into the strip and to try and free some of the 240 people Hamas took hostage in its terror attack.

The debate over whether or not Palestine activists should march on Armistice Day brings into focus the balance of civil liberties and respect for the British war dead. The previous marches have been loud and passionate, whereas Armistice Day is traditionally a solemn occasion of remembrance.

Police have been forced to make more than 100 arrests at the pro-Palestine marches in London, including some for anti-Semitic chanting. Two women who wore paraglider stickers in an apparent reference to the Hamas attacks were arrested on suspicion of inviting support for a proscribed organisation.

Others have been seen calling for 'jihad' and 'intifada'.

Although the Met has said it cannot ban the protest, it did ask organisers to postpone. They declined.

Israeli attacks on Gaza continue
Israeli attacks on Gaza continue. Picture: Getty

Mr Sunak spoke with Sir Mark on Wednesday to discuss the police response to the protest, emerging afterwards to say that although it should go ahead, the march "offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today".

Ms Braverman said in an article in the Times published on Wednesday evening: "From the start, these events have been problematic, not just because of violence around the fringes but because of the highly offensive content of chants, posters and stickers.

"This is not a time for naiveté. We have seen with our own eyes that terrorists have been valorised, Israel has been demonised as Nazis and Jews have been threatened with further massacres.

"Each weekend has been worse than the previous one. Last Saturday, in central London, police were attacked with fireworks, train services were brought to a halt by demonstrators and poppy sellers were mobbed and prevented from raising funds for veterans.

A view of destruction at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza on Wednesday
A view of destruction at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza on Wednesday. Picture: Getty

"Now as we approach a particularly significant weekend in the life of our nation, one which calls for respect and commemoration, the hate marchers — a phrase I do not resile from — intend to use Armistice Day to parade through London in yet another show of strength."

Ms Braverman wrote that she does not believe that these marches "are merely a cry for help for Gaza", adding that "they are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.

"Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas."

She added that police must deal with all kinds of protesters "even-handedly" but claimed that the Met showed double standards between their approaches to left- and right-wing protesters.

Around 70% of the population of Gaza has been displaced in the conflict
Around 70% of the population of Gaza has been displaced in the conflict. Picture: Alamy

Ms Braverman claimed that "there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters. During Covid, why was it that lockdown objectors were given no quarter by public order police yet Black Lives Matters demonstrators were enabled, allowed to break rules and even greeted with officers taking the knee?

"Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored".

She said that "if the march goes ahead this weekend, the public will expect to see an assertive and proactive approach to any displays of hate, breaches of conditions and general disorder."