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Suella Braverman has accused Rishi Sunak of a “betrayal” of his pledge to “stop the boats” in a blistering attack on the UK prime minister ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on the government’s flagship migration policy.
The former home secretary lashed out at Sunak a day after he sacked her from the cabinet, criticising him for “equivocation, disregard and a lack of interest” in key policy areas, including tackling irregular migration.
In an extraordinary letter to the prime minister posted on the social media site X, she also revealed details of a secret deal she claimed he signed while courting her support during the second Conservative party leadership contest last year.
The letter put pressure on Sunak ahead of the Supreme Court verdict on Wednesday on whether UK plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are lawful. The Rwanda policy is the linchpin of the government’s strategy to curb migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.
The government has pushed the policy in the hope that sending even a small number of migrants to the African nation would act as an effective deterrent to others hoping to arrive in the UK irregularly.
My letter to the Prime Minister pic.twitter.com/7OBzaZnxr2
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) November 14, 2023
Braverman accused Sunak of having “failed to prepare any sort of credible ‘plan B’” if the judgment goes against the government, claiming he engaged in “wishful thinking as a comfort blanket to avoid having to make hard choices”.
In June, the Court of Appeal ruled it was unlawful to send people to have their asylum applications processed in Rwanda.
The court said Rwanda was unsafe because asylum seekers risked being sent back to their home nation, where they could face mistreatment, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK is not alone in exploring models for outsourcing the processing of asylum seekers, with Germany also looking at a system involving non-EU countries.
Braverman warned Sunak in her letter that even if the Supreme Court rules in the government’s favour, the policy was still “far from secure against legal challenge” and asylum seekers “will not be removed as swiftly as I originally proposed” as a result of legislative changes “you insisted on”.
Her intervention came shortly after the leaders of a right-wing caucus of Tory MPs said Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle showed he was “deliberately walking away” from voters in the “red wall” of constituencies in northern England that the Conservatives won off Labour in 2019.
Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, co-chairs of the New Conservatives, announced the group would build its power base by fundraising and recruiting supporters to help its members — both sitting MPs and candidates. A Tory insider said the group has amassed a six-figure war chest.
They urged Sunak to quit the ECHR whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling.
The group, to which Tory vice-chair Lee Anderson is linked, will meet on Wednesday to discuss its next steps once the judgment is issued.
Conservative officials allied to Sunak said Braverman’s supporters are “noisy but few in number” — a view confirmed by one senior Tory MP on the right of the party. “I don’t think she has a huge following in the parliamentary party,” he said.
One cabinet minister, asked if Braverman’s letter would be a rallying point for a big Conservative rebellion, said: “Definitely not. She has no troops.”
However, some prominent figures on the right of the Tory party came out in support of the former home secretary.
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said her letter raised questions of trust. “Suella Braverman is right,” he added. “The prime minister had repeatedly failed to deliver on the promises she claims he has made.”
Braverman’s letter took aim at Sunak’s authority, saying he was “rejected by a majority of party members during the summer leadership contest” against Liz Truss in 2022 and has “no personal mandate to be prime minister”.
Highlighting her own role in helping him succeed Truss, Braverman said Sunak agreed a private deal in exchange for her support during the second Tory leadership race, which involved a “document with clear terms”.
The alleged agreement set out “key policy priorities”, including issuing statutory guidance to schools on “protecting biological sex” and scrapping all EU-derived regulations from the statute book by the end of the year, as well as plans for cracking down on so-called illegal migration.
The prime minister has “manifestly and repeatedly failed to deliver on every single one” of these policies, Braverman said.
She ended the letter by warning that somebody needed “to be honest”, telling Sunak: “Your plan is not working.”
She added: “We have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed and we are running out of time. You need to change course urgently.”
The British public appears to think Sunak was right to sack Braverman in Monday’s cabinet reshuffle.
An Ipsos opinion poll found 70 per cent of people thought it was the right decision, while only 17 per cent believed it was wrong.
Downing Street said in response to Braverman’s letter that Sunak was “proud to appoint a strong, united team yesterday focused on delivering for the British people”.
“The prime minister believes in actions not words,” Downing Street said, referencing the government’s legislation “to tackle illegal migration” and the reduction in “boat crossings by a third this year”.
“The prime minister thanks the former home secretary for her service.”