Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, attends a news conference following the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on Sunday, May 21, 2023. Image Credit: Bloomberg

London: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived back from the Group of Seven summit in Japan facing yet another cabinet scandal and Conservative Party finger-pointing over soaring migration numbers.

At the centre of both issues is Home Secretary Suella Braverman, an advocate of cutting back immigration who has come under fire for her handling of a speeding ticket last year. The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Braverman had asked civil servants to help arrange a private driving-awareness course, in a possible violation of ministerial rules against using public employees for personal affairs.

Sunak will have to decide how to respond to the domestic flap after returning from meetings in Hiroshima on Russia’s war in Ukraine and other global issues. The Labour Party has called for an ethics inquiry and is expected to try to force Braverman to answer questions in Parliament on Monday, one opposition MP said.

Former Conservative Party Chairman Jake Berry told the BBC on Sunday that the episode raises questions about the use of civil servants, “so I think there are definitely questions to be answered.”

While Sunak intends to seek information about the incident, there was no immediate indication he wanted Braverman to leave the Cabinet, one government official said Sunday. Sunak planned to consult Monday with his ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus, on the case, a second person said.

“Ms. Braverman accepts that she was speeding last summer and regrets doing so,” the Home Office said in a statement. “She took the three points and paid the fine last year.”

The controversy comes barely a month after Sunak’s No. 2, Dominic Raab, resigned as deputy prime minister over an independent inquiry that found he had engaged in aggressive and intimidating behaviour toward civil servants. Sunak, who has promised to restore professionalism in government after taking power in October, has already lost three cabinet members to scandal.

Braverman’s case comes at a particularly fraught time, with the government bracing for the release of migration figures Thursday that are widely expected to confirm a record surge of arrivals last year. The home secretary, who oversees immigration, gave a speech critical of the surge last week that was seen as an effort to position herself as a potential successor to Sunak.

Sunak sidestepped a question about whether he still backed Braverman during a news briefing before departing Japan. “I don’t know the full details of what’s happened, nor have I spoken to the home secretary,” the prime minister said.

The incident complicated Sunak’s efforts to move the agenda onto issues such as relations with the European Union, a China reset and helping Ukraine defend itself. Sunak also announced new investments from Japanese businesses that he said would create hundreds of jobs and help grow the economy.

The prime minister appeared frustrated when Braverman was the first topic asked about during his wrap-up news conference Sunday. “Do you have any questions about the summit?” he asked a reporter. Andrea Jenkyns, a Tory MP and former education minister, told GB News on Sunday that Sunak needed to do “less of the presidential flying around” and “get back to more Conservative-type policies.” He must commit to the party’s election pledge to bring down overall migration numbers, Jenkyns said.

Braverman has already been forced to exit one cabinet. She was fired in the final days of Liz Truss’s premiership in October after breaching security rules by sharing sensitive government information through her personal email. Sunak reappointed her to the post just six days later in one of his first acts as premier.

The prime minister “should have never had appointed her in the first place,” Labour’s health spokesman, Wes Streeting, told the BBC on Sunday. “He’s been too weak to sack her for incompetence and now he’s so weak, he won’t even call an inquiry into her conduct,” Streeting said.