Suella Braverman Suella Braverman. Photo: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

Braverman’s vicious stance over refugees highlights a factionalised Tory Party, which Sunak struggles to control, argues Terina Hine

Sunak’s poorly judged appointment of Suella Braverman to one of the ‘great’ offices of state was his first own goal. After only a week, all promises of a competent, scandal-free government are consigned to history.

It was clear from the outset that the appointment would come back to haunt him, and so it aptly proved on Halloween.

The morning of 31 October saw Braverman apologise for using her private email account to handle official documents. We knew about the one time, for which she briefly resigned, but the apology was for an additional six. One breach is a resigning/sacking matter in any normal administration, but seven?

By the time darkness fell, Braverman was in the Commons to explain the crisis at Manson migration centre. Channelling her inner evil at the desperate people fleeing war and persecution, her performance was full of the toxic bile expected from the far right. Farage on steroids. She claimed the small-boat Channel crossings amounted to an “invasion on our southern coast”, and that “illegal immigration is out of control.”

Tory loyalists cheered her on as she denied any responsibility for the overcrowding at Manston, made significantly worse by Braverman personally refusing to permit the mass booking of alternative accommodation for weeks. One senior government source told LBC that her refusal to approve hotel accommodation was in part because the hotels were located in Tory seats.

Consequently, the disused airport, designed as a short-term centre for up to 1,600 people, is currently holding closer to 4,000. Some migrants have been there for a month, the conditions have been described as truly wretched, with reports of outbreaks of disease, no beds, a lack of clothing or baby’s nappies.

For those tempted to believe the stories circulating that Manston inmates are mainly adult men, illegal economic migrants from Albania, a glance at footage showing children behind wire fences should set you straight. According to refugee agencies, those at the centre include children and families.

The right to asylum

Not that there is anything wrong with men claiming asylum. The vast majority of those crossing the channel in small boats are young men, escaping from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq; they are victims of war, often fleeing persecution. They are doing nothing immoral or illegal. The Home Office’s own figures from March 2022 show that 85% of asylum claims are approved, and a further 6% are permitted to stay on safety grounds.

This is not a problem of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ but of a completely dysfunctional Home Office. A Home Office that refuses to house asylum seekers, refuses to process applications and refuses to provide safe passage. The backlog of claims is huge; last year only 4% of claims were fully processed. In the year to March 2022 there were 55,146 asylum applications in the UK, but only 14,603 initial decisions made on applications.

And it is far from an invasion. The numbers seeking asylum on our shores is far less than in other EU countries. In the year ending September 2021, Germany received 127,730 applications, France 96,510, and the UK 48,540. And yes, there has been an increase in those risking their lives on small boats to get here, but that is because alternative, safe routes have been closed.

But facts don’t get in the way of the far-right’s scapegoating and demonising of desperate people. Braverman is not alone in her viciousness. She won the support of Nottinghamshire MP Lee Anderson who said migrants should “get on a rubber dinghy and go straight back to France” if the appalling accommodation at Manston is not good enough, while Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, Lincs, suggested that those who dont want to go to Manston could “stay in France”. Braverman has shown she can rally the right.

At a time when the Autumn statement is about to drop, the distractions of a Tory culture war may be useful; it is certainly not the time to upset the ERG. All the signs are this prime minister will follow in the footsteps of Johnson and attempt to use the plight of refugee crisis for his own advantage.

That Sunak, after all his promises of integrity and compassion, is sticking by the cruel and divisive Braverman should not surprise, he is no liberal. Braverman’s initial appointment was based on a grubby deal to prevent the Tory right opposing Sunaks coronation; her decision to back him rather than Boris Johnson was probably the most decisive endorsement of the leadership race. Sunak sticks with Braverman for fear of a right-wing, ERG backlash, and he needs all the parliamentary support he can muster for his autumn budget of tax rises and spending cuts.

Rishi Sunak was always going to struggle; his party is deeply divided, and having tasted blood on too many occasions the factions will not be easily placated. Permacrisis, Collins Dictionary’s word of the year, perfectly encapsulates the current state of the Tory party. A viler government is hard to imagine, but its weakness is our strength, and must be used to get rid of them once and for all.

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