Sacking Of UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman Was Only A Question Of When, Not If – OpEd


By Yossi Mekelberg

Suella Braverman’s days in the UK government were numbered the moment she wrote an ill-fated newspaper article in which, clearly for ideological reasons, she inappropriately and inaccurately criticized the Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force, for allegedly favoring one group of protesters (pro-Palestinians) over another (right-wing groups).

She was sacked from her job as home secretary by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday, several days after her op-ed was published. Her demise was as much about the way in which she phrased her unprecedented criticism of the police as it was about the actual content of the article.

Her choice of words might have been the result of sheer ignorance of police policies and procedures, or perhaps a deliberate attempt to stoke the fires of division among the public and by doing so curry favor with her supporters. Probably it was both.

For a minister in charge of a department that is crucial to the maintenance of law and order to publicly make the inaccurate generalization that there is “only one way to describe those (pro-Palestinian) marches: they are hate marches,” and to claim that the police were “playing favorites” by using stronger control tactics against some while tolerating others, was an act of sabotage of her own ministerial responsibilities by inflaming an already potentially explosive situation.

Instead of highlighting in a considered manner her concerns about some manifestations of hate speech among a minority of the protesters, and the need for it to stop, she instead opted to incite violence against hundreds of thousands of people exercising their legitimate democratic rights, while at the same time stirring up the far right against both protesters and police.

It might be that Braverman deliberately plotted her own downfall so that she could have complete freedom to pursue her agenda. Sunak was already keen to remove Braverman from the Cabinet but, until the events of the past week, was too frightened of upsetting the right of his party.

After all, throughout her political career Braverman has been a loose cannon who has failed to grasp the responsibilities she bears and the effects of what she does and says, first as an MP and then as a senior member of the Cabinet.

Over the past year she was running one of the most complex ministries in the country, a job that requires great sensitivity and a delicate touch, not a sledgehammer approach bent on inflaming the existing tensions surrounding some of the most divisive issues in British society, including immigration and the multicultural nature of the nation. 

Pro-Palestinian marches began in the UK soon after the start of the current war in Gaza. They have taken place across the nation, though mainly in London. Protesting is a basic freedom enshrined in domestic and international laws. This right is closely linked to freedom of expression, which is exercised during protests, marches and demonstrations, and also counterdemonstrations. Without it, no society is truly free.

These protesters have been expressing their legitimate concerns about the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza by the Israeli military, and demanding an immediate ceasefire. It is an entirely legitimate attempt to influence the British government to call for a ceasefire, and the vast majority of the marchers are doing so peacefully and within the law.

Admittedly, among the protesters there have been some, and they are a tiny minority, who carried the flag of Hamas, an organization outlawed in the UK, expressing support for the group and, by extension, for the massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7. We have also seen vile antisemitic chants and placards.

These incidents are inexcusable, they should be condemned, and they should be dealt with by the police when the law is broken — but not under government duress.

Sadly, protests can attract extremists. One can only wish that the conversations and general discourse surrounding the conflict could have been somewhat more considerate, nuanced and conducted with a vision of peace and coexistence, rather than the polarized slanging match we are witnessing.

Some slogans, such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” are controversial and open to interpretation, and I wish the protesters could have instead demanded simply that that all Palestinians be free and equal in all their rights.

But what Braverman did was to release two genies from the bottle with one stroke of her pen. Firstly she insulted and incited against all those who would like to see an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, to halt the killing of civilians there.

Secondly, by undermining the police and describing right-wing protesters as the victims of police discrimination, she sought to legitimize the violence officers faced while battling far-right hooligans in central London.

Throughout her political career, Braverman has not paused in her pandering to the far right and its entourage of thugs, and she egged them on with even more relish after becoming home secretary. 

On this most recent occasion, the results were instant, especially given the fact that her newspaper op-ed was published just days before Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. For some, these occasions are a somber reminder of the horror of wars and why they should be prevented, but for others they are an occasion for their nationalistic impulses to spiral out of control.

For the first time ever, the Cenotaph — which has been a landmark in Whitehall since the end of the First World War and is the central focus for was remembrance and commemoration events in the UK — this year became the focus of violent behavior by brutes and bully boys who claimed to be “defending” this British shrine from what Braverman described as “hate marchers” and “Islamists.” (The pro-Palestinian protest march, it should be noted, took place several miles from the Cenotaph.)

It is impossible not to draw a connection between the former home secretary’s reckless statements and this out-of-control violence by far-right thugs.

Sunak hardly emerges from this sorry saga with his reputation enhanced. Braverman’s article was a deliberate and obvious attempt not only to stir up tensions within British society, and by doing so position herself as the torchbearer of the extreme right of both the Conservative Party and British society, but to undermine Sunak’s authority.

He should have sacked Braverman before the ink had dried on her hate piece. That would have shown him to be a strong and principled leader. By delaying the decision for several days and then being forced to sack her under mounting pressure, he once again showed himself to be neither strong nor principled but someone who responds only to pressure.

Braverman has gone but what she represents remains present in British society and ready to be exploited by cynical and opportunistic politicians, as she demonstrated with her vitriolic anti-migration and anti-multiculturalism stances.

While she might aspire to lead the Conservative Party and one day become prime minister, the divisive and explosive way she is going about this is more likely to result in her following in the footsteps of a former Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, and ending up as a presenter on GB News, rather the leader of a nation with a proud history of tolerance for others and their views.

• Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House.

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