Suella Braverman is positioning herself to be the defender of right-wing Conservatives, party insiders said as the Government was forced to deny claims she is acting as a “sock puppet” for rebels on controversial Channel migration laws.
A Home Office source did not deny suggestions Ms Braverman had fought for tougher laws in Cabinet but was overruled by Rishi Sunak amid concerns from Attorney General Victoria Prentis about breaching international law, describing the claims as “speculation”.
But No 10 was on Monday forced to deny reports that the Home Secretary was secretly working with Tory rebels on amendments to toughen up the Bill to put pressure on Downing Street.
The idea of Ms Braverman working closely with right-wing backbenchers has for some time discussed by Tory MPs, with one ex-Cabinet minister recently referring to Sir John Hayes, one of the rebel leaders and chair of the backbench Common Sense Group, as Ms Braverman’s “unofficial adviser”.
It also comes after the Home Secretary sparked a government row at the Tories’ disastrous autumn conference after saying the UK should “ultimately we do need to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”, while acknowledging this was not official policy.
One ex-Cabinet minister told i this showed that “she is a big risk to Rishi” if the Bill fails to stop Channel small boat crossings in its current form, which envisages the UK remaining in the ECHR, because she could resign – a claim strongly denied by sources close to Ms Braverman.
However, the senior MP said: “She could blow him up if she says it’s all Rishi Sunak’s fault – he’s leading on small boats, he doesn’t want to go far enough on ECHR and I’m off.”
Another Tory insider said the report that Ms Braverman was a “sock puppet” for right-wing rebels could work in her favour.
“A cynic would say it’s quite a good story for Suella in that the right would love her even more,” they said.
But they doubted she would quit while it looked like Mr Sunak could turn things around and win the next election.
“The obvious move for her, if she wants to be the darling of the right, is to go over the head of the ECHR, that will cement you with 50 or 60 Tory MPs if you are thinking about the next leadership election.
“At the moment, that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, as it’s quite possible Rishi wins the next election, and so then you would be a nobody.
“She is creating a base where she is seen as a defender on these issues.”
But they stressed that Ms Braverman pushing for tougher measures within Cabinet was as natural as the Education Secretary asking for more money for schools.
“It has ever been the case that the Home Office will want to gold plate things.
“Lawyers will be telling the Home Secretary which elements remain open to legal challenge, so Suella will try to push things as far as she can because she will be sitting in meetings getting advice saying: ‘this is not a silver bullet’.
“That tension is natural and inevitable and is always going to happen.
“The question is how much was she conspiring (with rebel MPs), because that’s where you get in trouble.
“It’s like Gillian Keegan asking for more money for schools, that’s her job, but teaming up with the education unions to get more money for schools – that’s what’s going to get you in trouble.”
Mr Sunak on Monday insisted Ms Braverman had “done a superb job” on the Bill.
“The Home Secretary and I have worked incredibly closely for the last few months, since we’ve had this job, to get the legislation exactly right.
“It’s not easy. We need something that is going to be robust, that’s going to be effective, and that’s what we’ve got.
“It’s important that it’s effective, which it will be, and it’s also important that we abide by our international obligations.
“This is a country and a government that does follow the law.
“Of course that’s important.”