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Good morning. A testing week for Rishi Sunak as the Conservative party’s internal debates over the UK’s net migration figures spills out into the open. And a trying week for me, a man whose knowledge of cars wouldn’t fit into a very small cup, as events force me to reckon with a story involving Suella Braverman and speeding.
Some thoughts on all that below.
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What we talk about when we talk about Suella Braverman
The papers are full of stories about Suella Braverman. The Sunday Times’ Harry Yorke reports claims that, while attorney-general, she was caught speeding and sought help from her civil servants and political aide to secure a one-to-one speed awareness course, an option, Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe and Jim Pickard tell me, that is not available to other drivers. Officials refused, so she ultimately accepted three points on her licence, the newspaper said. Downing Street said Rishi Sunak would consult his ethics adviser Laurie Magnus.
There are, I think, two parts of the ministerial code that are potentially relevant here. The first is that the benefits of a one-on-one interview cannot, to my eyes, be plausibly seen as anything other than party political, and seeking to use civil servants to secure one falls foul of the code in that regard. The other, identified by the Telegraph, is that the code places a general requirement upon ministers to ensure “no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”. The Mirror revealed Braverman’s aide had denied she had received a speeding ticket when the newspaper called them about the rumours six weeks ago.
Separately, the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar reported that Braverman tried to get out of the final Commons vote on the small boats bill in order to visit a police station instead.
Meanwhile in the Telegraph, her allies said it was all a smear against Braverman, who is currently embroiled in a series of internal rows within the cabinet and the Conservative party. Miriam Cates, an ally of Braverman, told the newspaper:
“There are many people who don’t agree with her view that we should limit legal immigration. If you put two and two together, it is perfectly possible it’s politically motivated. It is shocking anyone would leak this private information.”
There are two subplots to be aware of here. Many in Westminster believe that Braverman will at some point resign or provoke Sunak into sacking her to avoid damaging her own standing on the right of the party, and anything that muddies the terms of her exit from the cabinet may muddy the political impact of her resignation.
The second is the various rows in cabinet and across the Conservative party about the UK’s net migration figures, which are expected to be at least double what they were pre-Brexit. Expect more bitter rows and more public division among Tory politicians over immigration and border control as the week wears on.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
The long history of British immigration policy has, in the past, been consistently cyclical: periods of openness and high immigration are followed by periods of restriction, punitive policy and backlash. The arrival of immigrants including my great-great-great grandparents from eastern Europe in the 19th century was followed by the introduction of restrictions on who could come to Britain in the 1905 Aliens Act, and that legislation was amended and tightened on many occasions.
The arrival of immigrants, including my grandmother, from elsewhere in the British empire in the 1940s, 50s and 60s resulted in a series of acts to severely limit and in some cases outright remove the rights of Commonwealth citizens to come to the UK, starting with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which introduced a de facto colour bar. (For much more on this, do check out Andrew Rosenberg’s Undesirable Immigrants, a marvellous book I reviewed recently for the FT.)
And in the present day, the arrival of people from central and eastern Europe in the 2000s was followed by the UK’s exit from the EU.
Now, New Labour tried all sorts of things to manage its electoral coalition while presiding over high levels of immigration. They largely did this by inserting any manner of new cruelties and barriers into the immigration system for people coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area and for refugees. (Sarah O’Connor wrote about the legacy of one of those “innovations” last year.)
But it didn’t work. One intriguing consequence of Brexit is that Boris Johnson essentially created a similar dynamic: high legal immigration from outside the EEA, paired with new barriers and cruelties for people trying to come to the UK from the EEA and for refugees.
So will the Conservatives’ attempts to manage high immigration through introducing new cruelties, particularly for people seeking to come to the UK via small boat, be any more successful than New Labour’s? I don’t know. I’m with Madeleine Sumption, director of the Oxford Migration Observatory think-tank, who told William Wallis and Delphine Strauss:
“I keep expecting the salience of migration to go up in public opinion. It is surprising that it is not given how prominent it is in political debate.”
I’ll have much more to say about the politics of all this later on this week. But for now, one thing I will say is that, considering the historical trend, I don’t think we should expect the current mixture of cruelty with high levels of migration to age any better or prove any more electorally durable than the previous ones.
Now try this
My ideal weekend is one in which I wake up before my alarm, have a nice breakfast, read the FTWeekend, watch a matinee, go to a nice restaurant, and Arsenal win. So: close but no cigar this weekend.
I particularly enjoyed Tabby Kinder and George Hammond’s piece on whether San Francisco can get out of its doom loop, Lucy Fisher on the Conservative party at the crossroads, Enuma Okoro on parenting (and being parented), and Alec Russell on the hour of the global south.
Top stories today
Labour’s pledge to fix NHS | Labour leader Keir Starmer will outline plans to get the NHS “back on its feet” if his party wins the next general election, by pledging to cut waiting times and reduce deaths from cancer, heart disease and suicide.
Probe into Teesside project would be ‘wise’ | The chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee has backed calls for the UK’s public spending watchdog to investigate Teesworks, the flagship government-backed regeneration scheme overseen by Ben Houchen.
T-level trouble | The heads of more than 100 colleges have warned that plans to shake up vocational training in England risk leaving thousands of school leavers without access to further education when they reach 16 because ministers have failed to put in place a “coherent implementation plan”.
‘The DUP’s vote has held up very, very well’ | Nationalist party Sinn Féin gained a “tsunami” of votes to clinch a better than expected victory in council elections in Northern Ireland. Analysts said the result left a way open for the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson to take his party back into the Stormont institutions.