November 15, 2023 - 10:40am

The first thought that struck me when reading Suella Braverman’s three-page epistle to Rishi Sunak following her departure from Government was: why wasn’t this a resignation letter?

It reads like a resignation letter. The former home secretary accuses the Prime Minister of breaking solemn undertakings he made to her as part of a deal to smooth his path to Downing Street following the collapse of the Liz Truss ministry.

We haven’t yet seen the formal document in which these pledges were apparently recorded, although if it exists we surely will. But in addition to reinstating her as home secretary, the promises apparently covered scrapping EU regulations, cracking down on illegal immigration, and “protecting biological sex” in schools.

Yet she writes: “You have manifestly and repeatedly failed to delivery on every one of these key policies”. 

Why, then, was she still in his government? It’s not as if there have been a sudden flurry of betrayals; rather, Sunak had clearly been giving Braverman the cold shoulder for months, at least, and a cursory glance at the Government’s record is enough to show he wasn’t following her advice.

Anyway, she certainly isn’t the first minister to find principled reasons to leave office after she has been ejected from it, nor will she be the last. Fun as the drama is, more important is what it means for the next year or so.

Talk of any immediate threat to Sunak is overblown. Few seem to think Braverman has a substantial following amongst Tory MPs, and nobody has yet followed Dame Andrea Jenkyns’s lead and publicly submitted a letter to Sir Graham Brady.

Braverman might, however, be able to cause the Government a lot of political pain over the next year, especially after the Supreme Court today ruled the Rwanda policy unlawful.

While few voters are likely to be exercised by Sunak breaking a private commitment, it will give the former home secretary and others on the Right plenty of ammunition if, as seems likely, the Government fails to make progress on small boats and mass immigration in 2024.

Could that be a springboard for a successful leadership bid if the Conservatives lose the next election? The thought has certainly occurred to Braverman — and being on the backbenches at least means she won’t personally carry the can for whatever goes wrong between now and then.

Still, having attended Cabinet under three different prime ministers she cannot escape her share of responsibility for the abysmal circus of the last few years, whatever letters she was writing behind the scenes. Combine that with a divisive public profile and a small following in the Commons, and it seems likely that even Right-wing MPs would be better off seeking a candidate who won’t unite the opposition against her.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.