Politics

James Cleverly replaces Suella Braverman as home secretary – but don't expect any real change

James Cleverly has replaced Suella Braverman as UK home secretary. But the policy is unlikely to change, experts have warned

James Cleverly has replaced Suella Braverman as home secretary. Credit left image: Simon Dawson No10 Downing Street, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Credit Right image: UK Home Office.

James Cleverly has replaced Suella Braverman as the UK’s home secretary, as prime minister Rishi Sunak “desperately” attempts to reset his troubled premiership – but home office policy is unlikely to change, an expert has said.

Today’s dramatic cabinet reshuffle comes after Braverman accused police of favouring pro-Palestine protests and claimed that rough sleeping is a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Compared to his controversial predecessor, Cleverly – foreign secretary until today – has kept a relatively low profile in office.

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The Army reservist is a “safe pair of hands”, explains Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

“James Cleverly is always capable of toeing the party line, particularly in the media,” he said. “He is popular among his colleagues and indeed among MPs on all sides of the house.”

“He’s probably a good appointment when you need someone to hose down some of the fairly explosive things that have gone on over the past week or so. But the broader reshuffle is looking quite desperate.”

Who is James Cleverly?

Army reservist, Brexiteer, Conservative MP for Braintree – Cleverly wears many hats.   

After starting his political career as a member of the London Assembly, he was elected as the Conservative MP for the Essex constituency of Braintree at the 2015 general election.

Then-PM Liz Truss made him foreign secretary on 6 September 2022. Cleverly backed Boris Johnson in the October 2022 leadership race, but eventually endorsed Rishi Sunak. He retained the foreign secretary role until today, when he was replaced by former prime minister David Cameron.

Cleverly’s voting record has been staunchly conservative. He has toed the party line in the House of Commons, voting to reduce corporation tax and bring down spending on welfare benefits, for example. He has also consistently voted against measures to prevent climate change and against UK membership in the EU.

The reshuffle will not bring any significant change to immigration policy, Bale said, nor to plans to impose tougher restrictions on protests.

“I don’t think we’ll see any great change of emphasis or policy under Cleverly,” he speculated. “I think he’s fully on board with stopping the boats, he regards that as important for the Conservative Party’s pitch to the electorate in 2024.”

Cleverly has previously voted in favour of stricter asylum controls and a tougher enforcement of immigration rules. His public acceptance of the home secretary role indicates that this will continue.

“It is an honour to be appointed as home secretary,” Cleverly posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The goal is clear. My job is to keep people in this country safe.”

The policy may stay the same, but Cleverly will differ from Braverman in style and tone, Bale explained.

“I don’t see him making the type of inflammatory comments that have become Braverman’s hallmark,” he said.

Does James Cleverly want to lead the Conservatives?

Last year, Cleverly made a public appeal to Rishi Sunak to allow him to keep his role as foreign secretary. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, he joked he would have to be dragged away from the job “with nail marks down the parquet flooring”.

Nonetheless, the new foreign secretary has publicly welcomed his new appointment. But in a thread on X, political commentator and former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell speculated about the Cleverly’s real feelings.

“If [Cleverly] doesn’t look happy it is because he is not. He was by all accounts doing pretty well as foreign secretary and behaving in a rather more grown up way than some of his colleagues who were desperately trying to use the Gaza crisis for their own or political ends,” Campbell said.

“So to get shifted as part of the mess created by an appointment Sunak should never have made must be very annoying.”

But the new role has potential, too. If Sunak loses the next general election, someone will have to replace him as Conservative Party leader. Cleverly has ambitions to fill this post, Bale speculated.

“Like Suella Braverman, he has leadership aspirations. But he won’t go about the leadership contest in the same way,” he said.

“I think his pitch will be that he’s capable of bringing the party together, rather than someone who creates these dividing lines and seeks the support of the authoritarian right of the party.”

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