Suella Braverman is to remain in her post as home secretary after the prime minister said “further investigation is not necessary” into her handling of a speeding offence.
In his letter to the home secretary, the prime minister said he had consulted with his independent ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, who advised that “on this occasion further investigation is not necessary” and that he had “accepted that advice”.
Mr Sunak had been facing pressure to take action against Ms Braverman after The Sunday Times reported that she allegedly asked civil servants to arrange a private one-to-one awareness course after she was caught speeding last summer – a move critics said could amount to a breach of the ministerial code.
But Mr Sunak said that after receiving a letter from Ms Braverman – in which she apologised for causing “distraction” – “my decision is that these matters do not amount to a breach of the ministerial code”.
However, acknowledging the row that ensued following the reports, he added: “As you have recognised, a better course of action could have been taken to avoid giving rise to the perception of impropriety.”
‘A better course of action could have been taken’ – politics latest
Mr Sunak immediately came under criticism for his decision, which the Liberal Democrats branded a “cowardly cop-out”.
In the exchange of letters, the home secretary admitted that “if faced with a similar situation again, I would have chosen a different course of action”.
She said she had “at all times been truthful and transparent, and taken decisions guided by what I believed was right and appropriate given my office, not by any personal motivation”.
The Sunday Times reported that instead of signing up for an in-person speed awareness course with other motorists, or completing one online that would show her name and face to other participants, Ms Braverman allegedly asked civil servants to arrange a private one-to-one course.
When the civil servants refused, she reportedly sought help from a political aide, who requested for the course organiser to provide a private session, or allow her to use an alias or turn her camera off.
When the course provider refused, Ms Braverman opted to take the three points on her licence, the paper reported.
Ms Braverman said she “sought to explore whether bespoke arrangements were possible” due to her “personal circumstances” and the security she receives as a government minister.
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“I recognise how some people have construed this as me seeking to avoid sanction – at no point was that the intention or outcome,” she said.
“Nonetheless, given the fundamental importance of integrity in public life, I deeply regret that my actions may have given rise to that perception, and I apologise for the distraction this has caused.”
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said that “with every scandal, we see the prime minister dither, delay and flip-flop – never taking decisive action”.
“This is not the leadership the country needs during such a severe cost of living crisis. Sunak is too weak to even order an investigation, let alone sack his home secretary,” she said.
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“Sunak had the chance to do the right thing but instead he’s once again chosen to be ruled by his own hardline backbenchers. He may be in office but he is barely in power.”
Labour MP Angela Eagle said the decision was “weak, weak, weak” – echoing Tony Blair’s criticism of John Major when he was prime minister.
Chris Bryant, the Labour chair of parliament’s standards committee, tweeted: “This is extraordinary and shows neither professionalism nor integrity.”
The Labour MP was referring to a pledge Mr Sunak made on becoming prime minster in which he promised that “integrity, professionalism and accountability” would be at the heart of his government following the scandals that erupted under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Ms Braverman has escaped investigation but the prime minister did launch probes into Nadhim Zahawi and Dominic Raab, who both lost their roles as party chair and justice secretary respectively.