Use of personal accounts – which came under scrutiny during the pandemic – is a contravention of government guidelines
Suella Braverman has resigned as home secretary after admitting contravening government guidelines by sending an official document via a personal email account.
In her resignation letter to prime minister Liz Truss, the departing cabinet minister described the sending of the message as a “technical infringement of the rules”. Braverman said that the document was a draft of a written ministerial statement on migration, which had already been briefed to MPs and was due for imminent publication.
“Nevertheless, it is right for me to go,” she wrote. “As soon as I realised my mistake, I rapidly reported this on official channels and informed the cabinet secretary. As home secretary, I hold myself to the highest standards, and my resignation is the right thing to do. The business of government relies on people accepting responsibility for their mistakes.”
Braverman added: “Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics. I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign.”
The mistake in question is one that has come under increased scrutiny in the last 18 months. In summer 2021, it was reported that, throughout the coronavirus crisis, former health secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care had often used personal email or messaging accounts to conduct official government business.
The Information Commissioner’s Office launched an investigation and, in June of this year, published a report.
In the foreword, commissioner John Edwards said the watchdog had begun the probe in the clear understanding that “it is not unlawful for ministers and officials to use private channels for conducting official business”.
“In our view, however, the deployment of these technologies [during the pandemic] failed to appreciate the risks and issues around the security of information and managing transparency obligations,” he said. “This is not solely a product of pandemic exigencies. But rather a continuation of a trend in adopting new ways of working without sufficient consideration of the risks and issues they may present for information management across government over several years preceding the pandemic.”
The regulator called for government to launch its own review of the use of private communication channels by ministers and officials.
“This should identify any systemic risks and areas for improvement, as well as whether there should be greater consistency in approach across departments,” Edwards said. “The review could also consider whether there is a case for a stronger duty on ministers, public servants and others who are responsible for maintaining the public record.”
Braverman has been replaced as home secretary by Grant Shapps, who served as transport secretary throughout Boris Johnson’s time in Downing Street, but had not previously been given a ministerial role by Truss.
In an increasingly acerbic letter, Braverman said that “it is obvious to everyone that we are going through a tumultuous time”.
“I have concerns about the direction of this government,” she added. “Not only have we broken key pledges that were promised to our voters, but I have had serious concerns about this government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments.”