Suella Braverman is a calm presence at the centre of the political storm she triggered with her incendiary remarks on immigration. As Tory delegates were packing their Mulberry washbags this weekend for the party’s annual conference in Manchester, the Home Secretary was breezily doubling down on her warnings about multiculturism – and taking aim at celebrities such as Sir Elton John and Gary Lineker for criticising her.
Ms Braverman – now the highest-profile potential leader-in-waiting as the clock ticks down to a daunting General Election battle – provoked Rishi Sunak into delivering a public rebuke when she used a speech in Washington to attack the ‘misguided dogma of multiculturalism’ for posing an ‘existential threat’ to the West.
The Prime Minister, who, like Ms Braverman, comes from an ethnic-minority background, responded by hailing the UK’s ‘fantastic multicultural democracy’. In her interview with The Mail on Sunday, Ms Braverman brushes aside the PM’s apparent slap-down, saying: ‘The Prime Minister himself said that people do need to integrate when they come to this country.
Suella Braverman is a calm presence at the centre of the political storm she triggered with her incendiary remarks on immigration
Suella Braverman said: ‘Life is tough in many countries around the world. Many people want to come and live here but we need to be honest and say it’s not possible, it’s not sustainable. We need to put the British people first’
‘I’m very proud of our multi-ethnic society in the 21st Century. But there are many areas around the country where integration hasn’t worked and where there are communities that are living parallel lives to the rest of us, not speaking English and not embracing British values. I think I’m illustrating and voicing a concern shared by the British people.’
She added: ‘Life is tough in many countries around the world. Many people want to come and live here but we need to be honest and say it’s not possible, it’s not sustainable. We need to put the British people first.’
The Home Secretary’s remarks horrified the moderate, One Nation caucus in the party, and in particular her calls for the UK to leave the European Convention of Human Rights if judges rule later this year against the Government’s plan to send illegal migrants to Rwanda – and her assertion that refugees exploit issues of sexuality and gender to claim protection.
Sir Elton and Mr Lineker joined Tory MPs – a dozen of whom complained to the party chief whip – in criticising her suggestion that refugees were ‘gaming’ the system.
The singer released a statement calling for ‘more compassion, support and acceptance for those seeking a safer future’, and arguing that Ms Braverman risked ‘further legitimising hate and violence’, while the BBC presenter – who was at the centre of a storm earlier this year when he accused her of mimicking the messaging used by the Nazis in the 1930s – tweeted: ‘She can’t possibly know that they are lying, therefore she’s being disingenuous at best.’
Hitting back, Ms Braverman described Sir Elton, who is worth £450 million and whose homes include a £15 million villa on the French Riviera, as a member of the ‘out-of-touch pampered elite’, who were ‘lecturing the rest of us on how we should think about very, very serious issues affecting the majority of British people’.
Ms Braverman described Sir Elton John, who is worth £450 million and whose homes include a £15 million villa on the French Riviera, as a member of the ‘out-of-touch pampered elite’
Gary Lineker accused Braverman of mimicking the messaging used by the Nazis in the 1930s – tweeted: ‘She can’t possibly know that they are lying, therefore she’s being disingenuous at best
Acknowledging that while Sir Elton was ‘a great songwriter and musician’ whose songs were played ‘a lot in our house’, she said: ‘I think he’s wrong on the subject. When you go to towns across the country where there are hotels with illegal migrants or asylum seekers, that puts real pressures on communities. My job is to think of them first ahead of a virtue-signalling, elitist view from Hollywood Central.’
She added: ‘I don’t have a problem with anyone flying in private jets or having villas around the world. I’m in no way attacking the wealthy – I think people who work hard have, of course, ultimate choice on how they spend their money.
‘But these people don’t have to wait in a queue to see a GP, they can just go private. They don’t have to worry about trying to afford a car or buy a house. The vast majority of British people are directly affected by the unprecedented scale of illegal migration.
‘What I have a problem with is these privileged people telling the British people how they should think. I find that rank hypocrisy and condescending, lecturing tone incredibly inappropriate.
‘These pampered elites are trying to look compassionate and sound virtuous’.
Ms Braverman’s outspoken remarks have made her a target for political rivals, who hope that Mr Sunak will sack her as part of an authority-restoring post-conference Cabinet reshuffle.
But her views chime with many of those delegates who will be packing the bars, restaurants and conference rooms of Manchester amid mounting jitters over Labour’s 20-point poll lead, the country’s record tax burden and Mr Sunak’s very public wavering about whether to take an axe to the HS2 line.
Asked about her leadership ambitions, Ms Braverman falls back on a reliable formulation, ‘There’s no vacancy. I’m working hand in hand with the Prime Minister, to stop the boats and win the next General Election. I applaud the Prime Minister for his very courageous stance on some of these tough decisions in the long-term interest of the country. He’s working flat out with me on our plan, and we’re making progress.’
Ironically, the Home Secretary’s own background – like that of the Prime Minister – is an example of meritocatic multiculturism in action: her parents, Uma and Christie, emigrated to Britain in the 1960s from Mauritius and Kenya respectively, and she attended a state primary in Wembley before winning a scholarship to private Heathfield School and earning a place at Cambridge University, where she chaired the Conservative Association and set out on her path to Parliament.
She argues that Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to add 20 per cent VAT to private school fees will kick away that ladder of aspiration for low-income families.
‘I was lucky enough to get a partial scholarship to an independent school and were it not for that my parents probably couldn’t have afforded it. My parents were working-class, aspirational people. My father was unemployed for several years. My parents scrimped and saved. They sacrificed huge amounts. They lived a very frugal and humble life, to put my education first. It [Labour’s proposal] would cut out an aspirational, hard-working strata of our society. He’s waging a class war. I think it will ultimately undermine choice, it will damage independent schools. And it will only put more pressure on the state sector because I think ultimately, it will become unaffordable for many parents.’
Like her predecessor as Home Secretary – and possible rival for the crown – Priti Patel, Ms Braverman’s background stymies attempts from her opponents to level accusations of ‘racism’ at her.
‘I would hope we live in a democracy where everybody, regardless of their skin colour, can feel safe enough to identify very real challenges affecting the fabric of our nation and not feel fearful of voicing very legitimate concerns about the impacts and consequences of high levels of migration, fast-paced migration and an unhelpful dogma around multiculturalism,’ she said, adding: ‘An issue that I’ve been dealing with as Home Secretary is in relation to the phenomenon of grooming gangs in towns like Rochdale, where we saw very widespread rape, exploitation and abuse of predominantly white girls by largely British Pakistani men. These men held medieval views of women, and behaved in an abhorrent way. And I think that’s a very powerful example of where integration and multiculturalism has failed.
‘I think people who are coming here from foreign countries need to sign up to what Britain stands for. The values of democracy, freedom of expression and respect for others.’
During the interview, Ms Braverman goes out of her way to praise the Daily Mail for its successful campaign to expose law firms who help migrants to play the system, saying: ‘The work that the Mail did was incredibly powerful because it demonstrated the racketeering and the widespread practice among parts of the legal profession whereby dodgy lawyers facilitated and enabled people to lie about where they’ve come from.’
Despite the criticism she has received – including abuse on social media which must be upsetting for her husband, Rael Braverman, and children George and Gabriella, which she accepts ‘goes with the territory’ – Ms Braverman says that she has been ‘very encouraged by the overwhelming support that I’ve received’ for her remarks last week.
She insists that she has a ‘very good working relationship’ with No 10.
‘I feel very well supported by the Prime Minister and the No 10 team. There’s some really talented people in No 10 And I think we’re all gearing up now really for taking our message energetically to the British people exposing the failure and the catastrophe that Labour would represent for our country.’
Critical to the party’s hopes will be tackling the migration problem in time.
‘We do have a deadline. And that’s why we’re working flat out. And we need to demonstrate progress on this issue. Much hinges on the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing [on the Rwanda policy this month]. That will be a turning point.
And we will be able to take stock of where we are when that judgment is handed down.’
But can the Conservatives possibly win, despite Labour’s large poll lead?
‘I think we need to demonstrate to the people that we deserve their support for another term in office and ultimately expose the fact that Sir Keir Starmer represents open borders, unlimited migration, and rejoining the European Union.’