Downing Street has refused to back embattled Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s claim that there was “nothing untoward” about her handling of a speeding offence.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering whether to order an investigation into allegations the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code by asking taxpayer-funded officials to help arrange a private speed awareness course for her.
The Home Secretary on Monday insisted she had not sought to evade a sanction for speeding, and Downing Street said Mr Sunak still had confidence in her.
But No 10 pointedly refused to back her assertions that she had done nothing wrong following the speeding charge last year.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with her statement that there was “nothing untoward,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has had conversations today on this and...wants to avail himself of the information relating to this issue.
“I’m not going to pre-empt that.”
Mr Sunak has spoken to Ms Braverman and Sir Laurie Magnus, his Independent Adviser on Minister’s Interests, about the row.
Earlier, Opposition leaders urged the Prime Minister to sack Ms Braverman if she is found to have breached the ministerial code over the speeding case.
Ms Braverman allegedly asked civil servants about arranging a private speed awareness course which would have allowed her to avoid three points on her driving licence and a fine.
Mr Sunak was due to consult his ethics adviser on Monday morning over whether her conduct should be investigated for a possible breach of the ministerial code.
But, Ms Braverman insisted there was “nothing untoward” about her handling of a speeding offence.
In her first public comments on the row, Ms Braverman did not deny asking civil servants to intervene.
Asked directly if she asked officials to arrange a one-to-one course for her, she said: “Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the points but we’re focused now on delivering for the British people and working for them.”
Pressed on the same question, she said: “In relation to the process, I’m focused on delivering for the British people, doing my job as Home Secretary and what I will say is that, in my view, I’m confident that nothing untoward has happened.”
Sir Keir argued the Home Secretary’s actions appear to have been “inappropriate”. He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If she’s breached the ministerial code she should go.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey added: “If Suella Braverman has broken the ministerial code, then she must resign or be sacked. It can’t be one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.”
It was not clear this morning if the Home Secretary broke the ministerial rules by allegedly seeking the help of civil servants over the speeding incident, which is said to have taken place last year when she was Attorney General, Britain’s top law officer.
But Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee, told the Standard: “The optics of this are unfortunate. Those caught speeding, including MPs should follow the same process. Indeed two ministers are currently banned from driving. You don’t pull strings to cover it up.”
Mr Ellwood also said the row was “unfortunate timing” for the Home Secretary as she is already under fire from some Tory MPs over her speech to the National Conservatism conference in central London last week. Ex-Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, Tory MP for Chipping Barnet, said Ms Braverman faces “serious questions” over the speeding issue but did not want to rush to judgment.
David Simmonds, Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and co-chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Migration, said it would be “careless” if Ms Braverman was found to have broken the ministerial code.
“The facts need to be known. We don’t know whether this is a smear campaign based on innuendo or something that really is quite serious,” he told Sky News.
Ipswich Tory MP Tom Hunt told Times Radio: “Clearly there is a witch hunt going on with Suella Braverman.”
According to The Sunday Times, Ms Braverman asked Home Office civil servants for help on organising a one-to-one driving awareness course as she was keen not to have to accept three points on her licence. Officials are said to have refused the request, so Ms Braverman allegedly turned to a political aide to assist her in attempting to arrange an alternative to having to attend a course with other motorists. A spokesman for the Home Secretary said she regretted speeding and had since accepted the points and paid the fine. The speeding offence reportedly took place on a road outside London last year.
A private speed awareness course, unlike a public one, could have allowed Ms Braverman to keep secret the speeding incident. But there may also have been security concerns, according to Tory sources, over whether she could attend a course in person without her protection officers. Sir Laurie Magnus, the PM’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests and Mr Sunak will have to decide if she broke the code.
Ms Braverman resigned as Home Secretary during the Truss administration after admitting breaching the ministerial code in a row over her use of a private email account to discuss Government’s immigration plans.