Suella Braverman 'may have broken ministerial code' with attack on 'activist civil servants'

Home secretary lambasted for "cowardly" attack on Home Office staff over illegal migration bill
Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Live News

Suella Braverman may have broken the ministerial code by accusing “activist” civil servants of trying to scupper efforts to stop asylum seekers travelling to the UK via small boats, union bosses have said.

In an email to Conservative Party supporters setting out the government’s new illegal migration bill, the home secretary wrote that ministers had previously “tried to stop the small boats crossings without changing our laws”.

“But an activist blob of left wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party blocked us.”

In a letter to the prime minister lambasting “cowardly attack on civil servants”, FDA union general secretary Dave Penman said he could not see how Braverman's comments could be reconciled with her duty under the ministerial code to uphold the political impartiality of the civil service.

“This is an extraordinary statement from a serving home secretary. As you and the home secretary are well aware, civil servants advise and ministers decide. Once a decision is made, civil servants are tasked with carrying out the settled will of government,” he told Rishi Sunak.

Prospect general secretary also accused the home secretary of breaching the ministerial code and accused Braverman of "playing politics with those dedicated to serving the government of the day".

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka also slammed the email, saying: “The home secretary’s disgraceful and disrespectful comments come as no surprise to us. 

“Her government has, for years, treated hard-working civil servants with disdain and contempt, taking them for granted. 

“Rather than insulting our members and questioning their integrity, Suella Braverman should be encouraging the prime minister to give civil servants a fair pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”

The bill, which Braverman has said will “push the boundaries of international law”, will curtail the rights of asylum seekers who do not arrive via an established legal route. It has been criticised by human-rights groups and lawyers.

New arrivals will be removed to a “third” country and banned from ever returning or claiming citizenship. The bill will also enable the detention of asylum seekers who arrive via irregular routes, without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention, until they can be removed; and limit asylum seekers’ ability to prevent deportation by relying on human-rights laws.

In his letter, Penman wrote: “Not only is this statement factually incorrect, but the tone of that paragraph and the brigading of civil servants with the Labour Party and ‘left-wing lawyers’ is a direct attack on the integrity and impartiality of the thousands of civil servants who loyally serve the home secretary, doing some of the most complex and difficult work in government.

“This cowardly attack on civil servants, whom the home secretary knows are unable to publicly defend themselves, also risks further stoking tensions over a matter which has previously resulted in violent clashes with protesters."

Penman said civil servants working at the Marsham Street headquarters have been advised to take safety precautions to prevent them from being identified.

In 2019, a civil servants working for the then-Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – which shares offices with the Home Office in Whitehall – was stabbed in an unprovoked attack outside the building.

Following the attack at the Marsham Street headquarters, then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill wrote to civil servants saying that while the attack was an isolated incident, there was a "need for colleagues everywhere to be vigilant and to take reasonable precautions for their own security".

Penman has urged Sunak – who is also minister for the civil service – to ensure Braverman’s comments are “publicly withdrawn as a matter of urgency”.

The home secretary must also apologise to all Home Office staff for the remarks, Penman said.

Clancy said arrangements should also be put in place to ensure there is no repetition of such briefings against civil servants.

Braverman's comments echoed previous accusations she has made of officials standing in ministers' way. Last summer, then then-attorney general told The Telegraph that civil servants' "Remain bias" had been a barrier to attempts at post-Brexit reform.

“Some of the biggest battles you face as a minister are, in the nicest possible way, with Whitehall and internally with civil servants, as opposed to your political battles in the chamber,” she said.

Former Government Legal Department head Sir Jonathan Jones told CSW at the time that the comments were "completely unfair and very damaging to morale and trust" – while Penman said “good ministers" welcome impartial advice and challenge, instead of dismissing it as politically motivated.

The prime minister's spokesperson told reporters today: "The home secretary did not see that email before it went out.

"She did not see, sign off or sanction that email being sent out."

Read the most recent articles written by Beckie Smith - Why do civil servants wear rainbow lanyards? We asked, you answered

Share this page