Political Upheavals in UK Continue

It has been seven years now, but it seems that indirectly Brexit saga is not going to end in the UK. Earlier this week the unelected prime minister of the country sacked his Home Secretary and replaced the Foreign Secretary with a former prime minister. In the backdrop of the on going conflict in Palestine, Asad Mirza, analyses what repercussions these decisions might have on the foreign and law and order policies of the UK…..

By Asad Mirza

Foreign Affairs

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this week sacked the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman and appointed the then foreign secretary in her place as the country’s new Home Secretary, in James Cleverly’s position he bought in former prime minister David Cameron as the UK’s new foreign secretary.

The two decisions it seems were rather linked, as he was forced to take a rather nasty decision regarding Suella due to her insolence, and added to it was an unauthorised article, appearing in The Times, criticising the way police have handled pro-Palestinian “mobs” in UK recently.

This was the second time Ms Braverman lost the job of home secretary – she resigned from Liz Truss’s government after breaking the ministerial code in October 2022. Mr Sunak reappointed her as the new home secretary, less than a week later when he took over as prime minister in October 2022.

Even then, Ms Braverman was at the centre of controversy for branding Indians as the “largest group of people who overstay” their visas in the UK. “Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” she had said in an interview with The Spectator.

A Brexiteer, and a rightist hardliner, Ms Braverman’s reappointment even then was dubbed “cynical”.

Casting aspersions on Sunak, Labour MP Chris Bryant had tweeted in 2022 “Appointing Suella Braverman as Home secretary just days after she was sacked for a security breach doesn’t smack of integrity, competence, professionalism or sensible politics. It’s just cynical manoeuvring. This PM’s no better than the last two.”

Recently, critics from both opposition parties and fellow Tory MPs called Ms Braverman’s comments “offensive” and “inflammatory” and said it undermined the operational independence of – and public confidence in – the police.

This is the second time Ms Braverman lost the job of home secretary – she resigned from Liz Truss’s government after breaking the ministerial code in October 2022. Mr Sunak reappointed her as the new home secretary, less than a week later when he took over as prime minister in October 2022. Even then, Ms Braverman was at the centre of controversy for branding Indians as the “largest group of people who overstay” their visas in the UK

Going by her track record, Braverman is expected to rally around the rightists in the Conservative Party and give a hard time to Rishi Sunak, as she seems in no mood to let bygones be bygones.

As far as appointing David Cameron, as the new foreign secretary is concerned, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the UK’s main opposition Labour Party David Lammy while speaking in the Parliament summed the sentiments succinctly, stating “David Cameron is the seventh foreign secretary in the seven years of total chaos. He was forced to resign in failure over a matter of foreign policy,” Lammy further said, “Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, claimed he was the change, instead, he has just been directed by yesterday’s failure with an honour.”

Which leads us to the question; how David Cameron is going to affect the working of the Sunak government, as the decision means one of Britain’s best-known and most-experienced politicians is back in one of the most powerful jobs in the British government, but his worldview differs from Sunak’s and that might pose difficulties.

Recalling Rishi Sunak’s first conference speech as the Tory leader, just five weeks ago – Sunak tried to pitch himself as the change candidate. In doing so, he distanced himself from what he described as a failed “30-year political status quo.” This was seen as a clear attempt from Sunak to distance himself from his predecessors, as the Conservatives have been in government for the last 13 years. But appointing the person who led Britain for a large chunk of those 13 years of Tory government sends an altogether different message.

Going by her track record, Braverman is expected to rally around the rightists in the Conservative Party and give a hard time to Rishi Sunak, as she seems in no mood to let bygones be bygones

The two leaders have their own policy differences also; in the same speech Sunak confirmed the rolling back of High Speed 2 – a long-promised rail line that Cameron announced with much fanfare back in 2013.  However, in his equally lengthy statement following his appointment on Monday last, Cameron said that though he has “disagreed with some individual decisions” made by Sunak, it is clear to him the PM is “a strong and capable prime minister.”

On the foreign policy front, as prime minister, Cameron famously heralded a “golden era” of UK’s relations with China. Cameron was keen to attract more Chinese investment to Britain, and even welcomed President Xi to the U.K. for a state visit in 2015.

That approach – and some of Cameron’s recent lobbying work in China – has been strongly criticised by a good number of anti-China members in the Tory party.

On his part, Sunak used a speech last year to make clear the “golden era” relations between Britain and China is well and truly over. Cameron will have to follow that line when he engages with Beijing in his new foreign affairs role.

However, the litmus test for Cameron will be his handling of the on going Palestine crisis. The former British prime minister was critical of some Israeli policies early in his tenure as the prime minister but later settled into an uncritical approach. To serve as UK’s newest foreign secretary, amid one of the worst diplomatic crises in recent memory, will be a tough job indeed.

How David Cameron is going to affect the working of the Sunak government remains to be seen, as the decision means one of Britain’s best-known and most-experienced politicians is back in one of the most powerful jobs in the British government, but his worldview differs from Sunak’s and that might pose difficulties

Israel’s continued bombardment of Gaza has led to a humanitarian disaster imperilling the besieged area’s 2.3 million residents and also threatens to spill over into a wider regional war.

UK has been a committed supporter of Israel since the war started on 7th October, after Hamas-led fighters launched an offensive on southern Israel, which killed around 1,200 Israelis, according to the most recent estimates. In retaliation, Israel has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza, of which the vast majority are civilians, including women and children.

Cameron is unlikely to deviate far from the precedent set by his predecessor Cleverley. Within the British political establishment at present there is a strong cross-party consensus on backing Israel unconditionally. Neither Sunak’s Conservatives nor the opposition Labour Party are calling for a ceasefire. It is unlikely therefore that Cameron’s past comments on Palestine and Israel will have much relevance to the current situation.

Further, in order to give Cameron his new role, Sunak had to offer the ex-PM a life peerage, meaning Cameron can sit in Britain’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, for life. But this means he won’t face scrutiny from MPs in the House of Commons – where the main action happens in British politics – and he will only be permitted to address his colleagues in the Lords.

Conservative MPs including the backbencher Michael Fabricant have already raised concerns about what this means for parliamentary scrutiny. House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle put the government on notice last Monday, saying, “given the gravity of the current international situation, it is especially important that this House is able to scrutinise the work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office effectively.”

The latest episode reeks completely of inefficient politicians leading UK, at the time when the world is facing its worst diplomatic scare. It also points to the low level politicking being resorted to by the British politicians, with no regard to sincerity, loyalty or working for the good of the people, through a parliament which is sometimes also referred to as mother of all parliaments.

–The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted on www.asadmirza.in. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda