The fallout over Home Secretary Suella Braverman telling a Holocaust survivor she “won’t apologise” for her language around immigration intensified on Saturday, with the Home Office accused of violating the Civil Service Code over its defence of the Tory MP’s comments.
During an event in her Fareham constituency on Friday, Ms Braverman was confronted by 83-year-old Joan Salter who said the home secretary’s use of terms such as “swarms” and “invasion” to describe refugees reminded her “of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others”.
“Why do you find the need to use that kind of language,” she asked.
Despite Ms Salter’s powerful testimony, Ms Braverman replied by saying she “won’t apologise for the language that I’ve used” to “demonstrate the scale of the problem” around immigration.
Her response was condemned by Twitter users online, who branded her remarks as “utterly shameful”.
And in an attempt to calm things down, the Home Office’s statement on the exchange may have only made things worse.
In a series of tweets, it wrote: “Footage of a conversation with a Holocaust survivor is circulating online. The video has been heavily edited and doesn’t reflect the full exchange.
“The home secretary listened carefully to the testimony. She thanked her for sharing her story. The home secretary also expressed her sympathy and set out why it is important to tackle illegal migration.
“Since the footage misrepresents the interaction about a sensitive area of policy, we have asked the organisation who posted the video to take it down.”
A perfectly normal response to legitimate public scrutiny from a government department, of course – fortunately the charity who shared the video, Freedom from Torture, confirmed they are “standing our ground” around keeping the footage online.
They even went one further and released the full exchange, during which Ms Braverman also said she shares “a huge amount of concern and sympathy and frustration about the challenge that we are facing” and that her parents were immigrants.
She continued: “I see my job as being honest with the British people and honest for the British people. I’m not going to shy away from difficult truths, nor am I going to conceal what is the reality that we are all watching.
The Tory minister also praised the government’s support for refugees from countries such as Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria and Afghanistan.
However, it’s the response from the Home Office which has gone on to spark further criticism, with some Twitter users suggesting the department breached its government’s own Civil Service Code.
Sharing a link to the guidance, one replied: “I suggest you re-read this, especially the part about impartiality, and consider deleting these tweets.”
“Why are you using an official government Twitter channel to defend remarks made by an MP speaking in her parliamentary capacity at a constituency event,” asked Nick Duffy, the i’s weekend breaking news editor.
A third responded: “Why is this a statement by the Home Office and not the home secretary herself, or the party to which she belongs to [sic]? This is not a departmental matter, and potentially breaches the Civil Service Code of Conduct.”
So what does the Code itself say, exactly?
Well, it concerns the rather important issues of honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality – with the last of these four being the area which many Twitter users are pointing out to the Home Office.
Under a section on political impartiality, it reads: “You must not: act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes.”
Of course, with Friday’s event being in Ms Braverman’s own constituency, concerns have been raised around the Home Office defending something which is a parliamentary and party-political matter.
The Code is overseen by the Civil Service Commission, who can receive complaints from civil servants once they have exhausted internal procedures within their departments.