Suella Braverman ‘tried to get out of final vote on small boats bill’
Suella Braverman tried to get out of the final Commons vote on the government’s small boats bill despite Conservative MPs being instructed to attend, the Guardian has learned.
The home secretary’s aides sent multiple emails over the course of several days to the Tory whips’ office requesting that she be “slipped”, or permitted to miss, the third reading of her department’s flagship legislation.
Sources said the chief whip, Simon Hart, eventually had to call Braverman directly to instruct her to attend the vote on the illegal migration bill, which had a three-line whip. They claimed that Braverman had wanted to visit a police station instead.
One Tory insider said: “The chief is at his wit’s end with Suella. She just thinks she can do what she wants. Her office was really hassling the whips’ admin team to allow her to miss the third reading vote for what appeared to be a picture opportunity.”
Rishi Sunak is facing growing pressure over the government’s handling of migration, with the Office for National Statistics publishing data on Thursday which is expected to show that net legal migration has hit a record 800,000.
On his final day at the G7 summit of world leaders in Japan, Sunak said that he thought overall migration numbers were “too high” and insisted he was “committed to bringing them down”.
But he said that his main focus was on curbing the much smaller numbers of people arriving illegally in small boats across the Channel, which the illegal migration bill was designed to do.
Braverman’s attempt to miss the vote is likely to further anger Tory MPs who are already despairing over the home secretary’s apparent leadership pitch at the controversial NatCon conference last week, as well as her inflammatory rhetoric around migration.
Braverman visited Northamptonshire to highlight the government’s police recruitment programme, and made it back in time for the vote. A source close to the home secretary said: “This is a load of drivel.” The Conservative whips’ office declined to comment.
Being slipped, or pairing, is a longstanding convention in the Commons where the whips of the government and an opposition party agree to allow MPs from one side to miss a vote because of personal reasons or official business.
Separately, the prime minister is under pressure to launch an investigation by his ethics adviser into whether Braverman broke the ministerial code by asking Home Office civil servants for special treatment over a speeding fine.
Sunak also faces claims by former home secretary Priti Patel that he refused an official request for money to speed up asylum processing while he was chancellor, casting doubts on his commitment to getting to grips with the broken system.
Patel, an ally of Boris Johnson, accused the prime minister of taking a “sticking plaster” approach to clearing the backlog of 92,601 asylum cases submitted before June 2022 by the end of this year, adding that it was “too late” to make a substantial difference.
In an interview with the Inside Whitehall podcast, Patel claimed that Sunak had turned down a Home Office request to fund the digitalisation of claims which are largely paper-based. These are slower to process and contributed to the current backlog.
“In 2021, we asked the Treasury for money to reform the asylum processing system. It was completely rejected by the way. We said if you don’t do this you’re going to end up spending more money basically, because it will take longer to process the cases,” Patel said.
“The whole system is still very paper based and it was a labour of love to try and persuade the Treasury to give that money. So now they announce resources and it’s a sticking plaster and too late.”
Patel also claimed that much of the Nationality and Borders Act, passed while Johnson was still prime minister, had yet to be enacted, adding that “everybody tried to airbrush the significance of that bill”.
Sunak last week set a new goal of bringing migration down below the level he “inherited” as prime minister, which was about 500,000 net arrivals a year. Braverman had previously said she believed net arrivals should be under 100,000 a year.
The prime minister has made the difficult task of stopping small boat crossings a central mission of his government. “I think illegal migration is undoubtedly the country’s priority, and you can see all the work I’m putting in to that,” he said.
A No 10 source said: “As chancellor, the prime minister put over £3bn of investment into the UK’s asylum system, including an additional £85m per year to improve the asylum case-working system and strengthening border security. As prime minister, he has put an unprecedented focus on curbing illegal migration and stopping the boats – making it one of his five top priorities.”