The senior member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group last night was gloomy about the prospects for Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary.
“She won’t last the week,” he told me at the prospect of the loss of another former ERG chairman from the top table (ex-ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg resigned last week before he was sacked).
Indeed if you take your diet of news from mainstream broadcasters, then the conclusion is that Braverman’s days are numbered.
But is this really the case? I can see five reasons why Braverman survivespossibly until the next general election, as Home Secretary.
1. The Right needs a Cabinet champion
Braverman’s importance to Sunak, who is only starting his seventh day as Prime Minister today, is her positioning in the Conservative party.
Braverman is a darling of the party’s Right wingas evidenced by the ovations she received at the party’s conference in Birmingham last month.
The party’s grassroots loved her – and she clearly is in tune with them. None of this is confected – Braverman is rightwing to her irreducible core.
Her critics might think it odd that she dreams of a plane full of failed asylum seekers taking off for Rwanda (as she told me on my podcast at the conference last month) but the members in the room loved it.
This makes her politically valuable to Sunak. Right-wing Tories want to see one of their own at the top of the party – and Braverman is that person.
2. Sunak’s deal with the European Research Group
Just last week Sunak and his then leadership challenger Penny Mordaunt met the ERG’s six officers to discuss how they would lead the Conservative party.
In a statement afterwards, Mark Francois, the ERG chairman, told the Telegraph: “Both have stressed to us their determination to unite the Conservative party, including in the formation and composition of any Government they lead.”
The language was clear: the ERG expected at least one Cabinet seat for one of their members. Braverman – as a former ERG chairman who had pulled out of the leadership conference the day before and backed Sunak – is the perfect fit.
3. Cover for huge tax rises
The ‘pitch-rolling’ by HM Treasury for the November 17 Autumn statement – which former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng failed to do – has already started.
As we report today Sunak is drawing up plans for years of tax rises for everyone in the country. One Treasury source warned: “It’s going to be rough.”
The prospect of such large tax rises makes it imperative that Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have all wings of the party represented in the Cabinet to approve them and “dip their hands in the blood”.
Sunak’s Cabinet is stuffed with moderate Conservatives and fewer bona fide tax cutters. Braverman is one – and this is why she must remain there.
4. Completing Brexit
Looming over all this is the upcoming battle over how to sort out the Brexit mess in Northern Ireland where the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol has caused so many difficulties.
Fresh elections to the Stormont assembly have put off any crisis until just before Christmas when there will be renewed efforts to find a workable solution.
Brexiteers remember how Sunak sided with Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove to try to water down a new draft law to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.
They were seen off by Braverman and others and the Bill is now on its way through Parliament.
There will be battles with peers in Parliament as well as Dublin and Brussels over the new law, if no agreement is reached. Brexiteers remember this, and want to see Braverman leading the fight.
5. Beware Suella the backbencher
Braverman’s pronouncements in the Commons last night that the borders “system is broken” and “immigration is out of control” show how desperate things are.
On the face of it, Sunak might have been dismayed by the comments. But politically the remarks were astute: by attacking the failures of the system under previous home secretaries, she was presenting herself as the minister to sort it out, as
Labor Home Secretary John Reid did in 2006 when he declared the Home Office as “not fit for purpose” and broke it up to create the Ministry of Justice.
Braverman is ambitious. She told me on my podcast that she wants to bring net immigration down to “tens of thousands”, adopting the famous target that former PM David Cameron could never meet.
Tory MPs were listening. They want an ambitious Home Secretary, willing to take on the critics to try to plug the UK’s porous southern border.
And Sunak won’t want her on the backbenches, where she would emerge as a touchstone for criticism of the Home Office.
For now, at least, Braverman is the answer. As a Right-wing Conservative MP told me today: “She is the last chance we have to deal with the migrant crisis boat before the general election.”