UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak carried out a major Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, firing controversial, hardline Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and in a shock move, bringing back one of his predecessors David Cameron as Foreign Secretary.
Downing Street confirmed that James Cleverly, formerly the Foreign Secretary, will take over from Braverman. He was replaced by Cameron, who resigned as prime minister in 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union, in a referendum that he called.
Braverman had served as Sunak’s interior minister throughout his tenure in Downing Street, but her confrontational rhetoric towards migrants, protesters, the police and even the homeless had caused rifts in Sunak’s Cabinet and sparked speculation that she was plotting a future leadership bid.
She most recently courted criticism by accusing London’s police force of applying “double standards” in the way they manage protests, in an op-ed in the Times newspaper condemning a pro-Palestinian march that Downing Street said had not been cleared by Sunak.
On Saturday, far-right counter-protesters clashed with police in central London after Braverman called the pro-Palestinian demonstration a “hate march,” stoking tensions around a rally taking place on Remembrance Sunday.
Braverman’s comments on policing and her severe criticism of Saturday’s pro-Palestinian rally were criticized by figures across the political spectrum.
“You have a chance of inflaming both sides when you make such divisive remarks,” Neil Basu, the former head of Counter Terrorism policing in the UK, told BBC Radio on Monday morning.
“Making comments that are potentially divisive is a very dangerous thing to do … no Home Secretary we’ve served under would have done the same thing,” he said.
Her departure from government comes as Sunak’s party remains deeply unpopular among voters with polls suggesting the Conservatives are drifting towards a potentially catastrophic electoral defeat next year.
A controversial figure
Braverman has long been a controversial figure within the Conservative Party. She has attempted to excite the group’s right-wing grassroots with populist messaging, and become the face of Britain’s hardline stance against asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants, but her rhetoric and controversy-ridden tenure in government has appalled many moderate members of the party.
Days before her comments on Saturday’s protest deepened discord between her office and the police, she claimed in a post on the social media platform X that rough sleepers were “living on the streets as a lifestyle choice,” and advocated a policy to stop homeless people accessing tents.
Sunak had insisted as recently as Thursday that he had confidence in Braverman. But her dismissal sets up a potential power battle at the top of the ruling party, pitching Britain towards yet another spell of political infighting and instability.
While a leadership challenge against Sunak would be a dramatic risk for a party that has already cycled through five prime ministers in seven years, there is a growing murmur of discontent in its ranks at Sunak’s inability to reverse the Conservatives’ fortunes.
Alternatively, Braverman may be eyeing a run for leadership after the impending general election, expected late next year, should the Conservatives lose power to the buoyant opposition Labour Party.
But even in that scenario, Braverman will be expected to use the coming months to position herself as a radical alternative to Sunak – a pitch that could complicate the prime minister’s electoral campaign in the new year.
Monday marks the second time in just over a year that Braverman has been sacked as home secretary. She served in the post for six weeks during Liz Truss’s shambolic premiership last year, before resigning for breaching ministerial rules by using a private email address.
But she was back in the same position just days later; her resignation sparked Truss’s downfall, and her successor Sunak speedily reinstated her after seizing power.
Under Sunak, Braverman spearheaded a heavily publicised push to clamp down on small boat crossings made by asylum-seekers. The government’s flagship illegal migration bill, approved by MPs earlier this year, would essentially hand the government the right to deport anyone arriving illegally in the United Kingdom.
She is an equally furious culture warrior, borrowing rhetoric from the American right when lambasting “woke” culture, transgender rights and climate protesters.
Her frequent headline-snatching remarks have given ammunition to the government’s critics. Last week, after Sunak’s government unveiled its plan for the new session of Parliament, opposition leader Keir Starmer told Sunak in the House of Commons to “think very carefully about what she is committing your Government to do.”
“Without a serious Home Secretary, there can be no serious Government and he cannot be a serious Prime Minister,” Starmer said.