Suella Braverman has spent the past week battling accusations that she broke the ministerial code during her time as attorney general in 2022. To get you up to speed (although not as fast as Braverman), according to reports in the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday at the weekend, Braverman asked civil servants to try and arrange a one-on-one driving awareness course after she was caught speeding.
The scrutiny that followed was not over the speeding offence itself, but over whether she breached ministerial rules by asking officials to help her with a private matter. Opposition parties were quick to call for Rishi Sunak to order an investigation into the claims, while Braverman’s Conservative peers sought to downplay the severity of the offence. Sir Edward Leigh even came out to say "what's wrong with this country, we used to have proper scandals about sex or money.”
Ultimately, Sunak has decided not to pursue an investigation, but was he right to not put the brakes on Braverman?
Several years ago this would have been more clear cut. The decision for a PM to stick by their minister used to largely depend on the severity of the ministerial breach. Through this lens alone, Rishi Sunak’s decision not to investigate the claims against Suella Braverman is relatively justifiable. While the accusations levelled detail an abuse of power, Braverman did end up paying the fine and taking the points. Sadly, there have been much more significant abuses of power in recent governments.
However, therein lies the issue. The Conservative party is facing the next election with record low levels of trust and integrity. Conduct in both the Johnson and Truss governments has left the Conservatives with a reputation of a party that likes to play fast and loose with the rules and faces little accountability for breaking them. When Sunak took over as PM he promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at every level of government and the general public are watching his decisions with a beady eye to see if he puts his money where his mouth is.
That said, the decision not to investigate the claims against Braverman arguably serves Sunak’s goal to mend the Conservative Party’s reputation better than ordering an investigation would. The British public has a short memory. If Sunak orders an investigation into Braverman’s conduct, what will follow is weeks of media coverage over her conduct. By refusing to do so, the matter will likely be forgotten in place of other breaking news - or perhaps another Tory scandal - by the end of next week. Additionally, an investigation and / or resignation could ignite the leadership positioning which already still plagues the party. As Sunak drives the Conservatives towards the 2024 General Election, the last thing he needs is for the party to veer off road once again.