“Where is Suella Braverman?” “What is Suella Braverman doing?” “Why isn’t Suella Braverman upholding the rule of law?” The latest Brexit row has asked plenty of awkward questions of the Attorney General.
Braverman, aged 40, only landed the post in February, supplanting Geoffrey Cox. But she already has a reputation as one of the Conservative Party’s fastest-rising names.
So who is she? Let’s blast through the credentials of the Tory at the centre of a legal furore.
What’s the story?
Furious accusations that the Government is mishandling Brexit, which is a change from furious accusations that the Government is mishandling Covid-19.
Critics have fumed that Boris Johnson’s decision to tear up parts of the UK’s Brexit deal last week — specifically the Withdrawal Agreement he signed with the EU in January and the Internal Market Bill published on Wednesday — damages the UK’s reputation abroad and respect for the law at home.
The move would break international law. As Attorney General, Braverman’s role is to prevent that.
“Whether to enact or repeal legislation, and the content of that legislation, is for Parliament and Parliament alone”, she wrote in a legal note.
Today, Cox criticised the way the Brexit treaty is being torn up: “it is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way.”
Dominic Grieve, David Cameron’s attorney general from 2010 to 2014, has said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what Suella Braverman is doing as she should be upholding the rule of law.”
The MP for Fareham was a successful entree among the 2015 intake, part of a crop of candidates earmarked by Cameron to fit the brief “more women and minorities, less public school”
A staunch Brexiteer, she campaigned for Leave in 2016 and was made chairwoman of the European Research Group of pro-Leave Conservative MPs a year later. At that point she was still Suella Fernandes — she married her husband Rael Braverman in February 2018, taking his name (they have a one-year-old son, George).
At a junior level, the Eurosceptic was elevated to Government in 2018 by Theresa May at the same time as Rishi Sunak, him to the Department of Business, her to Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU).
Both have since enjoyed a rapid rise, although Braverman resigned in protest on the day May’s proposed Brexit deal was published, saying the Northern Ireland Backstop “robs the UK of the main competitive advantages” of the split.
“The public want politicians to not only be likeable but have principles and passion for the work they do and that’s what they get with Suella”, says Sir Robbie Gibb, the former head of BBC Westminster and director of communications for Theresa May.
Born to run
Braverman, who speaks French and Spanish fluently, has not arisen from nowhere. At just 23, she made the Conservative Central Office’s candidates list — although she allowed her mother, Uma Fernandes, a Tory Councillor, the first crack at Brent East.
At that point Cambridge and Sorbonne-educated lawyer Braverman’s appetite for party politics was already unquenchable (she was president of the university’s Conservative Association).
She ingloriously put herself forward as Conservative candidate in Leicester East (finishing second to Labour’s Keith Vaz in 2005), failed to be selected for the London Assembly in 2012 and as the candidate for Bexhill and Battle in 2014, before eventually winning in Fareham, Hampshire in 2015.
“I’ve been influenced by my parents in that they’ve been able to start from nothing as immigrants to the UK and build up their own home and livelihood under a Conservative government for the most part,” she told the Guardian in 2003. Her parents, Christie and Uma, emigrated from Kenya and Mauritius respectively, with roots in Goa and South India.
Although a more junior lawyer than Cox, Braverman’s career as a barrister saw her defend the Home Secretary in immigration cases and the Ministry of Defence in the Guantanamo Bay Inquiry. Ideologically aligned with the Government on the Human Rights Act, Brexit and the power of the judiciary, Braverman must either batten down the hatches or blink.