Sunak accused of using 'mental gymnastics' to avoid Braverman investigation

PM commits to appointing ethics adviser but refuses to investigate events that happened under Liz Truss's administration
The returning home secretary. Photo: Suella Braverman. Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire

By Tevye Markson

27 Oct 2022

The government is using “mental gymnastics” to avoid an investigation into the home secretary's conduct, the FDA has said.

Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson yesterday committed to appointing a new ethics adviser, who will be tasked with investigating potential breaches of the ministerial code. However, the prime minister has ignored calls for an investigation into Suella Braverman’s activities as home secretary.

The PM reappointed Braverman as home secretary on Tuesday, just six days after she resigned over a security breach. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has since written to cabinet secretary Simon Case, requesting an investigation into the incident and any other breaches Braverman may have made.

But the new minister for the Cabinet Office, Jeremy Quin, said events that took place under Liz Truss in the last administration “would not be properly part of the remit” of the new independent adviser on ministers’ interests, in an answer to an urgent question from Cooper about Braverman's reappointment.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman told CSW: “It looks like they're using mental gymnastics to avoid having to investigate Braverman. Are they really saying if it was financial impropriety or a serious conflict of interest there would be no investigation?

“It’s not even as if she has left government.”

The Institute for Government’s Tim Durrant director agreed, saying: “It doesn’t matter that the alleged breaches happened under previous PMs – it’s the same person, in the same party of government – and the last PM was last week.”

There has been no independent adviser on ministers’ interests in place since Christopher Geidt handed in his resignation to then-PM Boris Johnson in June. But Quin told the Commons it is “absolutely the prime minister’s intention to appoint an independent adviser”.

Officials in the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team reportedly raised concerns about the appointment, but Sunak refused to comment on whether this was the case when asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at prime minister's questions.

And Quin, when asked by Cooper if Simon Case specifically had warned against the reappointment, said he could not comment on the cabinet secretary’s activities.

Sunak defended Braverman at PMQs yesterady, saying said the home secretary “made an error of judgement but she recognised that, raised the matter and accepted her mistake.” Later in the Commons, Quin said the home secretary is “very aware” that the mistake can never be repeated.

Braverman will receive lessons from MI5 on what information she can and cannot share and how to avoid future security breaches, according to The Times.

To respond to concerns about the Braverman appointment, Durrant said Sunak should give the new ethics adviser the power to investigate all the claims and commit to publishing the adviser’s report.

After more than a year of increasingly regular scandals under Boris Johnson, which ultimately led to his resignation, Sunak vowed to bring “integrity” back to Downing Street in his first speech as PM on Tuesday. Durrant said the PM should set out how he plans to do this, update the ministerial code and set out his government’s view on last year's reports from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and Nigel Boardman.

The November CSPL report called for stronger lobbying rules determining which jobs ex-officials can take after leaving government, including “meaningful sanctions” rule breaches. It also called for more independent oversight for the ministerial code and for the Cabinet Office to coordinate more frequent and comprehensive publication of lobbying data.

The Boardman Review into government procurement activity during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was published in May 2021 and accepted in full by Johnson, made 28 recommendations including developing a civil service risk-management profession.

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