Rishi Sunak’s decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as UK home secretary sets a “dangerous precedent” for what should happen to ministers who are alleged to have broken the ministerial code, a Conservative-led committee of MPs has warned.
The public administration and constitutional affairs committee released its latest report into government ethics on Friday, issuing a damning judgment on the government’s recent record in office.
It took issue, in particular, with the reappointment of Braverman, who resigned in the last days of Liz Truss’s premiership after sending an official document from her personal email to another MP. However, Sunak made her home secretary again soon after taking office, despite promising to bring “integrity and accountability” back to government.
The committee, which is chaired by the Conservative MP William Wragg, said in its report: “The reappointment of the home secretary sets a dangerous precedent. The leaking of restricted material is worthy of significant sanction under the new graduated sanctions regime introduced in May, including resignation and a significant period out of office.
“A subsequent change in prime minister should not wipe the slate clean and allow for a rehabilitation and a return to ministerial office in a shorter timeframe.”
The Cabinet Office said: “We have been clear that this government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level … We will respond to the committee’s recommendations in due course.”
Sunak took office in October pledging a return to sombre and ethical government after the turbulence of the tenures of Truss and her predecessor, Boris Johnson.
But he immediately faced criticism for his decision to reappoint Braverman amid allegations she had broken the ministerial code. The rightwing Braverman’s decision to back him during the Tory leadership campaign was seen as pivotal in killing off Johnson’s attempt to return to office.
Sunak has also struggled to appoint an independent ethics adviser after the resignation of Christopher Geidt, who quit after months of revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in No 10.
The Guardian revealed this week that several candidates had turned down the role over the past five months owing to concerns about its remit. One source close to the process said Sunak was not planning to allow the new adviser to launch their own investigations, which would leave substantial investigative power in the hands of the prime minister.
The committee said in its report that the role should be enshrined in law, and the new adviser should be able to begin their own inquiries. The MPs said: “The statutory role should preserve the recent increase in powers for the independent adviser, notably the authority of the post holder to initiate their own investigations rather than waiting for instruction from the prime minister.”
They added that the adviser should also be allowed to conduct inquiries into historical behaviour, which would allow whoever takes the role to look into the allegations against Braverman.