Rishi Sunak has decided against launching an ethics investigation into home secretary Suella Braverman over her handling of a speeding offence.
The UK prime minister said he had concluded that Braverman’s actions “do not amount to a breach of the ministerial code”, after claims she had asked civil servants to secure her special treatment to avoid penalty points on her driving licence.
His verdict on Wednesday followed more than 48 hours of deliberation in Downing Street. Critics had accused Braverman of breaking the ministerial code by asking taxpayer-funded civil servants to assist her with a personal matter. The code holds that ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.
While opposition parties had demanded a full investigation by ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus, Sunak had faced growing pressure to rule out a probe from MPs on the right of his party, who claimed Braverman was the victim of a civil service smear campaign.
In a letter to his home secretary, the prime minister said he had consulted Magnus, who “has advised that on this occasion further investigation is not necessary and I have accepted that advice”.
In a mild rebuke Sunak stressed it would have been “better” to “avoid giving rise to the perception of impropriety”, but acknowledged that she had apologised, expressed regret and provided a full account of events.
Braverman was caught for speeding last summer, while she was attorney-general. Instead of attending a speed awareness course with members of the public or accepting three penalty points on her licence and a fine, she asked officials to try and organise a private one-on-one speed awareness course, The Sunday Times newspaper reported.
Sunak’s letter was a response to a three-page letter Braverman submitted to him setting out details of the episode, in which she said: “I sought to explore whether bespoke arrangements were possible, given my personal circumstances as a security-protected minister.
“I recognise how some people have construed this as me seeking to avoid sanction — at no point was that the intention or outcome.”
She added: “Nonetheless, given the fundamental importance of integrity in public life, I deeply regret that my actions may have given rise to that perception, and I apologise for the distraction this has caused.”
Braverman said she had initially booked a slot on a speed awareness course with members of the public, but after being appointed home secretary had sought advice on whether it would be appropriate to attend given her new role and linked security concerns.
The Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics team was consulted and found it was “not an appropriate matter for civil servants to take forward”, but said she could consult her political special advisers.
They contacted the course provider to discuss options, amid concerns about her being covertly recorded if she joined an online course or facing security difficulties if she attended in person, the home secretary said, adding that ultimately she decided to accept the penalty points and a fine.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain accused Sunak of a “cowardly cop-out” and said he was “too weak to even order an investigation, let alone sack his home secretary”.
She added: “Sunak had the chance to do the right thing but instead he’s once again chosen to be ruled by his own hardline backbenchers. He may be in office but he is barely in power.”