UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Monday denied any impropriety over the handling of a speeding ticket that has again put her at the centre of controversy about alleged rule-breaking.
Rishi Sunak promised to restore integrity to government when he became prime minister last year, after the turbulent premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
But Braverman — a Brexit hardliner criticised for her outspoken rhetoric on immigration — is now facing calls for a potentially career-ending ethics inquiry.
The interior minister in charge of law enforcement asked her officials to set up a one-to-one driving awareness course, instead of taking penalty points on her licence, according to newspaper reports Sunday.
That has led to opposition claims that she may have breached the ministerial code of conduct by requesting non-political civil servants to help deal with a private matter.
Braverman, who resigned under Truss for using her personal email to send an official document to a colleague, downplayed the row in comments to media and to parliament.
“Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that,” she told the House of Commons, referring to when she was attorney general before becoming home secretary under Truss in September.
“I paid the fine and I accepted the points, and at no point did I seek to evade the sanction,” Braverman insisted.
– ‘Above the normal rules’ –
But she thrice refused to answer when pressed by opposition parties about what she had directed civil servants to do on her behalf.
“Time and again she tries to think that she’s above the normal rules,” senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper charged, while accusing Sunak of being “weak” after he restored Braverman to the cabinet.
After returning from the G7 leaders’ summit in Japan, Sunak told MPs that he wanted the case examined “properly” and “professionally”.
He confirmed that he had met with both Braverman and his independent ethics adviser, and would offer an update “on the appropriate course of action in due course”.
But pressed by reporters, Sunak’s spokesman pointedly refused to repeat her claims that she did not try to evade sanction or there was “nothing untoward”.
Adding to the controversy, the Mirror newspaper said on Monday that one of its reporters had asked Braverman’s special media adviser six weeks ago about the speeding offence and was told it was “nonsense”.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior officials, said: “Civil servants are publicly funded… They’re not there to support the personal interests of a minister.
“They don’t do their shopping, they don’t look after their children and they don’t sort out their speeding fine.”