‘Smear campaign’ claim as top lawyer says Suella did nothing wrong

Rishi Sunak quizzed by BBC on Suella Braverman speeding row

Suella Braverman did nothing untoward by reportedly trying to arrange a private speed awareness course, according to a lawyer who branded her the “author of her own misfortune” over penalty points allegations.  And her allies fear she is the victim of a smear campaign because of her efforts to crack down on immigration.

The Home Secretary was caught speeding outside London while attorney general last summer. She reportedly asked Home Office aides to help organise a one-to-one course to help her avoid incurring points on her licence.   Nick Freeman, known as Mr Loophole for winning celebrities’ cases on legal technicalities, said providers often prefer high-profile people to take private speed awareness courses as it is “less distracting” for others on it.

However, he said Mrs Braverman should have treated her alleged speeding offence as a “private matter” by getting a lawyer to deal with it.  Mr Freeman told the PA news agency: “(Mrs Braverman) wanted to do a one-to-one, there’s nothing untoward about that, I’ve had many clients who have arranged a one-to-one.

“On occasions the course providers contacted us and said, ‘I know you’re asking for such and such, would you mind if we have the course just exclusively for that particular person?’

“The reason behind it tends to be they want people attending the course to concentrate on the contents of the course and not on the people who are actually at the course.

“So if you’ve got a world class footballer or world class actor or musician, you don’t want people looking thinking, ‘Oh wow, guess who’s on my course!’, they want to be tuning into what the course is about.  So there’s nothing untoward about that, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The Sunday Times reported that Mrs Braverman asked Home Office aides to help organise a one-to-one course.  

Conservative MP Miriam Cates said it was “extremely worrying” that the Home Secretary was being subjected to personal attacks, Cates suggested there was “a concerted effort to discredit” Braverman.

“It is no coincidence that it’s in the same week that she had been very vocal about the need to put proper limits on legal migration which is clearly a contentious issue in Government,” said Ms Cates.

Cates told The Telegraph: “She [Braverman] has had a lot of profile and prominence. 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.”

Another Tory MP, Craig Mackinlay, said: “It wasn’t at all unreasonable for a Home Secretary to do what she has asked. I see nothing wrong with that. I would call that fairly good common sense and then decide to take the points.”

 However, David Penman, general secretary of First Division Association, the union representing senior civil servants, disagreed. He said it was inappropriate for Mrs Braverman to have approached officials on a personal issue where there was a conflict of interest, as the minister responsible for policing.

 Sources ‘close to the Home Secretary’ said she was “trying to understand” what she could do, rather than make any “direction” to civil servants, reports the Telegraph. 

Nonetheless, the Prime Minister will consult with his ethics adviser over the claims.  Rishi Sunak is due back in the UK on Monday following his trip to Japan for the G7 leaders’ meeting.

And Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has written to Sunak setting out a series of questions any inquiry into the allegations should seek to answer.  

In her letter to Mr Sunak, Labour’s Ms Rayner said the Prime Minister should order an investigation “without delay”.

She added: “Members of the Cabinet are subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and any attempt to direct civil servants to obtain special treatment in this matter would clearly amount to an unacceptable abuse of power and privilege by the Home Secretary.”

Ms Rayner, in a separate statement, said: “The Prime Minister must show some backbone and order his ethics adviser to investigate the Home Secretary to get to the bottom of this episode without further delay.

“The public have a right to know whether the minister responsible for law and order sought to abuse her position in an attempt to gain preferential treatment to avoid a speeding fine.

“This Conservative Cabinet appear to think they are above the laws that govern the rest of us.”

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Officials refused the request so Mrs Braverman allegedly turned to a political aide to assist her.

The Cabinet minister ultimately chose instead to accept three points on her driving licence.

Rishi Sunak was under pressure today (May 21) to launch an investigation into whether she breached the ministerial code.

Mr Freeman went on: “I think there’s a great deal of political mileage that’s been made by people who are suggesting that she’s done something underhand, she hasn’t.

“Whether or not she should have used civil servants to assist her is something that politicians will deal with and not me.

“My own view is that if you commit an offence of speeding or any offence, it’s a private matter and you should deal with it on a private basis and you shouldn’t be using tax-funded employees to help you out with that private problem.

“So that’s the potential for political fallout for her, but not in asking or requesting a course on a one a one-to-one basis – there’s nothing improper about that at all.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

The lawyer added that the Home Secretary should have “come clean immediately” and accepted responsibility.

He added: “She’s the author of her own misfortune – one for speeding, two for speaking to civil servants about arranging the course, three for not getting a lawyer to deal with it for her and four for not coming out straight away and holding her hands up.”

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