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... the most toxic departure from what should be unshakeable conservative values came in a speech delivered in Washington DC on Tuesday by Suella Braverman. The home secretary railed against migration and multiculturalism, describing the first as “an existential challenge” and the second as a failure. Naturally, liberals deplored it. But a genuine conservative would have been just as shocked.
Because Braverman had in her sights not just asylum seekers, but the European convention on human rights and the United Nations refugee convention of 1951. (She especially dislikes the way those documents protect gay people and women who fear discrimination.) These are binding agreements, treaty obligations entered into by the UK – and yet, when asked if the government would consider breaking from them if it did not get its way, Braverman refused to say that Britain would honour its commitments. Instead, she said the government would do “whatever is required”.
That violates what should be another core conservative principle: the rule of law. Talk to today’s disenchanted or former Tories and they’ll insist that even when Margaret Thatcher was at her least conservative, radically tearing up the postwar settlement, she had an unbending respect for the law.
She would hardly recognise this government, in which the likes of Braverman – like Thatcher, a lawyer herself – are ready to break commitments enshrined in law, domestic or international. Recall the unlawful prorogation of parliament or Brandon Lewis’s cheerful admission to the house that the internal market bill would “break international law in a very specific and limited way”. It’s tempting to think these were excesses of the Boris Johnson era, now passed. But Braverman’s speech – and Sunak’s indulgence of it – are proof that that sorry chapter has not ended.
Indeed, Sunak’s failure to defend the Commons, by refusing to cast a vote of censure against Johnson’s lies to the house, points to one more torching of conservative principle. Conservatives are meant to protect the sovereignty of parliament. Instead, they have made a mockery of it.