Revenge, no-one ever said, is a dish best served lukewarm. But that is what Suella Braverman offered up today, in a resignation speech when she hadn’t resigned, delivered 13 days after her sacking by Rishi Sunak and overshadowed by Boris Johnson’s Covid inquiry appearance. Her main argument – that the Home Office should be immune from all international law – was designed solely to speak to the ERG rump. Geoffrey Howe it was not.
Better scholars of Erskine May than your correspondent may know why deputy speaker Eleanor Laing, sitting in for Covid-hit Lindsay Hoyle, deemed Braverman worthy of a resignation speech, when her resignation was like that of Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom’s this week, i.e. not one at all. But it’s even more questionable when it became clear this was a naked leadership bid pitched at Conservatives’ worst instincts.
“It is no secret that I support leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and replacing the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights that protects the vulnerable and our national security and finishes the job of Brexit by extricating us from the foreign court and restores real parliamentary supremacy,” she told the Commons breathlessly. (The European Convention on Human Rights is nothing to do with the European Union and therefore Brexit, but there you go).
Accepting, however, that “the government won’t do that and it is a debate for another day” – the next Conservative leadership election, perchance? – she set out the legislation she would be drawing up if only she was in charge. Blocking off all legal routes to challenging flights to Rwanda, the military building “Nightingale-style detention facilities” for migrants (which sound a bit like camps) and, finally, Parliament being “prepared to sit over Christmas to get this bill done”. That bit certainly woke a lot of MPs up.
“It is now or never,” she warned. “The Conservative Party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill destined to fail. Do we fight for sovereignty, or do we let our party die?” Which is one question. Another is: why was she allowed to deliver this self-serving dross up in Parliament rather than, say, an Unherd drinks event?
Sunak wasn’t there to hear the home secretary he inexplicably appointed a week after she’d been sacked. But he was there for prime minister’s questions, a week after he’d been knocked from pillar to post by Keir Starmer over marbles.
Today, Starmer chose to go after Sunak on the Rwanda migration deal, particularly on the substance which, as he pointed out, the prime minister appeared not to have read. “Article 4 says the scheme is capped at Rwanda’s capacity,” said Starmer. “That’s 100. Article 5 says Rwanda can turn them away if they want. Article 19 says we actually have to take refugees from Rwanda. How much did this fantastic deal cost us?” Sunak squirmed. This is Starmer at his best, on top of the detail, annexes and sub-clauses. So who knows why he suddenly ditched it for another string of weak jokes?
“I would say that this treaty’s got more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, but I don’t want to wind up the prime minister by talking about a European country again!” he chortled. “How did the Conservative Party go from ‘Up Yours, Delors’ to ‘Take our money, Kagame’?” he giggled, at a gag which, to work, requires (a) the audience to recognise a 33-year-old Sun headline, (b) to know that Paul Kagame is president of Rwanda and (c) for money and Kagame to rhyme. Otherwise, it’s great.
But it was Starmer’s turn to squirm a little when Sir (!) Michael Fabricant, the ludicrously-coiffured MP for Lichfield, stood up and spoke of Margaret Thatcher. “Does the prime minister share my boundless joy that on the road to Damascus and in recognition of her great heritage and all that she achieved, another fanboy has joined her great beliefs – the leader of the opposition?” he said of Starmer’s weekend Telegraph essay. The Tory MPs enjoyed that. Nothing else at the moment, but definitely that.