If successful, Suella the Saviour will be the nation's heroine

DAN HODGES: If successful, Suella the Saviour will be the nation’s heroine. But if she fails, there will be no excuses

Suella Braverman likes talking tough. ‘I am utterly serious about ending the scourge of illegal migration,’ she defiantly told the Commons on Monday. ‘That is why I am in government, and why there are some people who would prefer to be rid of me. Let them try. I know that I speak for the decent, law-abiding, patriotic majority of British people from every background who want safe and secure borders.’

She certainly does.

A couple of days after her pugnacious performance, a focus group was conducted among swing voters. There was unanimous support for her stance over migrants. ‘If they don’t like it here, they can go back,’ said one respondent.

‘It should have been stopped years ago. But it’s got completely out of hand,’ said another. ‘They pulled a boat in yesterday. It was full of Albanians. There’s no war going on in Albania they are fleeing from.’

At the start of the week, many people in government thought Braverman’s position as Home Secretary was irrecoverable. ‘She’s a dead woman walking,’ one Minister told me. ‘She’ll be gone in a couple of days.’

At the start of the week, many people in government thought Braverman’s position as Home Secretary was irrecoverable. Then came her fightback

Then came her fightback.

The immigration system is in crisis, she announced. Britain is facing a migrant ‘invasion’. The Commons was stunned.

BUT for some fellow Tory MPs, it was music to their ears. ‘This is going down really well in my patch,’ one Red Wall Tory MP told me. ‘The liberals are complaining about her language. But she’s just saying what I’m hearing on the doorsteps. It’s what my people want. They see Suella as their saviour.’

Maybe they do. But the new Populist Princess needs to tread carefully. Because she’s not out of the woods yet.

For the moment, Braverman is useful to Rishi Sunak. She is helping bind the Right of his party into his new coalition. And he’s aware that her fiery rhetoric plays well with significant elements of the Tory base.

But he also knows she’s highly combustible. And if she does self-destruct, he has no intention of being too close when she starts self-igniting.

For the moment, Braverman is useful to Rishi Sunak. She is helping bind the Right of his party into his new coalition. And he’s aware that her fiery rhetoric plays well with significant elements of the Tory base

‘Rishi hasn’t ever used language like that,’ one of the PM’s allies pointedly told me in reference to Braverman using the word ‘invasion’.

Then they added: ‘The PM knows Suella was trying to convey the scale of the challenge we face, which is serious and unprecedented.

‘There’s no easy overnight fix. There’s no magic bullet.’

Meanwhile, while Sunak intends to handle Braverman cautiously, many of her ministerial colleagues are more emphatic in their dealings with her. ‘She’s a lunatic,’ one told me. Another said: ‘She’s a political liability, she’s a security liability, and she shouldn’t be anywhere near government.’

These concerns are echoed within her own department. One senior Home Office official said that while Braverman was talking a good game on the migrant crisis, she was falling short in a number of practical operational areas.

First, while the Manston asylum centre in Kent is widely referred to as a detention centre, it is not actually a detention centre at all.

‘It was only established as a processing centre,’ they told me, ‘so it can’t legally be used to detain people. And that means when the Government loses the case in court – and it will – there is a real danger the whole place could be shut down.’

A second issue is that Braverman was also responsible for shelving plans to open a new, 1,500-bed asylum centre at a former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire.

‘The MoD opposed it, and when she became Home Secretary she basically caved into them,’ the official said.

But some of the most stinging criticism predates her appointment as Home Secretary.

Meanwhile, while Sunak intends to handle Braverman cautiously, many of her ministerial colleagues are more emphatic in their dealings with her

The official said that when Boris Johnson signed off the deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, a big part of the controversial arrangement was to ensure the Home Office could handle the legal challenges so some planes could actually set off.

The official added witheringly: ‘It was Suella, when she was Attorney General, who was supposed to manage that. But she didn’t. I’m not entirely sure she properly understood the law in this area.’

Some of the attacks on Braverman are misplaced. As last Sunday’s fire-bomb attack at Dover underlined, politicians have to be aware of the dangers of using language that can inflame passions and tensions. But as we’ve seen time and again, there are also dangers in attempting to ignore or downplay the very real – and legitimate – concerns that voters have about illegal migration.

To his credit, this is something Sir Keir Starmer recognises, as he demonstrated at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. While some of his colleagues engaged in formulaic hand-wringing over the Home Secretary’s rhetoric and lack of humanity, Labour’s leader focused exclusively on a failure of delivery.

Equally, people are wrong to view Braverman as some form of unguided missile, veering randomly and dangerously around government. There is a very clear, calculated political strategy behind her statements and actions.

The Home Secretary has decided that to further her political agenda – and, with it, her own career – she needs to appeal over the head of her own colleagues and officials, and take her case directly to the British people.

That was what essentially lay at the heart of her sacking by Liz Truss, who caught her working up an entirely independent immigration policy with close parliamentary allies.

But popular though her strategy will be – at least initially – it contains one fatal flaw. The British people haven’t just had enough of illegal migration, they’ve had enough empty promises from their politicians about tackling illegal immigration.

‘This time last year, we said we would listen to people’s concerns and get immigration under control. Today I can confidently say that we are getting there.’ That was David Cameron in 2011.

Braverman can round on her critics on the Labour benches. She can lambast liberal lawyers, chastise ineffective French gendarmes, berate woke civil servants and rage against evil people-traffickers. But it won’t be enough

‘While we must fulfil our moral duty to help people in desperate need, we must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country. Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.’ Theresa May in 2015.

‘Let’s get Brexit done, take back control of our borders and implement an Australian-style, points-based immigration system.’ Boris Johnson in 2019.

Suella Braverman is indeed excellent at talking tough. But talk – however crowd-pleasing – doesn’t cut it any more.

Braverman can round on her critics on the Labour benches. She can lambast liberal lawyers, chastise ineffective French gendarmes, berate woke civil servants and rage against evil people-traffickers.

But it won’t be enough.

She has admitted that Britain’s immigration system is in crisis. Fine. As Home Secretary, the responsibility for ending that crisis now rests with her.

If she succeeds, Suella the Saviour will indeed become the nation’s new heroine. But if she fails, there can be no excuses. No finger-pointing. No attempt to pass the buck.

Our Home Secretary showed last week she likes plain-speaking. Excellent. In the weeks ahead, Suella Braverman needs to shore up Britain’s borders, or shut up.

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