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Suella Braverman and the ministerial code

Mike McCartney

10th November 2023

The Home Secretary is under increasing pressure to resign

And Braverman could be one of the few ministers who has had to leave the Cabinet for breaking each of the twin pillars of ministerial responsibility.

First, what is the current controversy?

Questions on the video

1. What did the Home Secretary criticize in her article?

2. How did the Home Secretary describe the treatment of lockdown objectors by the police?

3. According to the Home Secretary, how were Black Lives Matter demonstrators treated by the police?

4. What did the Home Secretary say about right-wing extremist protesters and pro-Palestinian mobs?

5. What potential breach of conduct could the Home Secretary's article constitute?

6. How does Number 10 claim the article was handled?

7. Why is a reshuffle being considered?

8. What event is the pro-Palestinian March scheduled to take place after?

9. How does the Prime Minister feel about the pro-Palestinian March?

10. What concerns does Braverman's article raise among the police force?

So, to put the in context.

Textbook theory suggests that ministers are bound by the twin concepts of collective and individual ministerial responsibility (each with its own further strands).

Defining collective ministerial responsibility

  • Collective ministerial responsibility (CMR) is a convention that can be described as the glue which holds Cabinet government together. It is convention that all ministers publicly support decisions of Cabinet (even if they disagree in private) or its committees or resign, e.g. most famously, the dramatic resignation of Michael Heseltine over the Westland affair in 1986.
  • Under the penumbra of collective responsibility, convention dictates that the government should resign if defeated on a vote of confidence in the Commons, for instance James Callaghan called for a dissolution on 28 March 1979 following a defeat in the Commons shortly after the government’s devolution proposals were rejected by the Scots and Welsh.

Defining individual ministerial responsibility

  • A feature of parliamentary government is that the executive is drawn from the legislature and according to the constitution is directly answerable to it. The ministerial 'highway code' is laid out in the Ministerial Code, which issued to all ministers. The latest iteration can be found here: https://assets.publishing.serv...
  • Ministers are individually responsible for the work of their departments and are answerable to Parliament for all their departments activities
  • They are expected to accept responsibility for any failure in administration, any injustice to an individual or any aspect of policy which may be criticised in parliament, whether personally or not. A significant example would be Lord Carrington (Foreign Secretary) in 1982 for failing to take due note of warnings that Argentina was planning a Falklands invasion.
  • While we are here it should be note that by far the most common reason for ministers resigning are personal reasons (i.e. not directly connected to their ability to run a particular department). A personal favourite of mine is that of Ron Davies as Welsh Secretary in October 1998, over his so-called 'moment of madness' on Clapham Common in South London.

Remember, Braverman had to resign when serving under Liz Truss in September 2022 for breaking the ministerial code's individual strand, before being reinstated a few days later after Sunak became PM on Truss's departure.

Many think her position is untenable, and the more chatter there is about her future, the more difficult it will become for her to remain in situ. Watch this space!

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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