MANCHESTER, England (AP) — U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman railed against unauthorized migrants, human rights laws and “woke” critics of her hard-line policies Tuesday, as she tried to secure her place as the flag-bearer of the Conservative Party’s authoritarian law-and-order wing.
In her keynote speech to the governing party’s annual conference, Braverman called migration a “hurricane” that would bring “millions more immigrants to these shores, uncontrolled and unmanageable.”
She said that U.K. governments had been “far too squeamish about being smeared as racist to properly bring order to the chaos.” But the Conservatives, she said, would give Britain “strong borders.”
Braverman hailed the government’s moves to make it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the U.K., including a law that requires anyone arriving in small boats across the English Channel to be detained and then deported permanently to their home nation or third countries.
Despite being passed by Parliament earlier this year, the law hasn’t yet taken effect. The only third country that has agreed to take migrants from Britain is Rwanda, and no one has yet been sent there as that plan is being challenged in the U.K. courts.
Braverman’s speech to party activists contained little new policy and had the feel of an election rally. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are lagging behind Labour in opinion polls with an election due by the end of 2024. Many members attending the four-day conference are looking ahead to a leadership contest that would likely follow a defeat.
Braverman, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, is unofficially campaigning for the support of the party’s populist authoritarian wing by advocating ever-tougher curbs on migration and a war on human rights protections and liberal social values. She quipped that the Human Rights Act should be called the “Criminal Rights Act,” said trans women shouldn’t be allowed on single-sex female hospital wards and vowed to remove “gender ideology, white privilege, anti-British history” from education and cultural institutions.
Braverman makes some Conservatives worry the party is regaining its image as “the nasty party,” as former Prime Minister Theresa May once called it. In recent years, the party has worked to shed its image as a bastion of jingoistic “Little Englanders” and to attract a more diverse membership. Sunak is the United Kingdom’s first prime minister of color, Braverman also has Indian roots, and several other high-profile Cabinet members also have immigrant parents or grandparents.
Braverman said her critics had “tried to make me into a hate figure, because I tell the truth — the blunt unvarnished truth about what is happening in our country.”
It’s an open question whether Braverman’s tough views will work on the party, or the country. Gideon Skinner, head of political research at pollster Ipsos, told a meeting on immigration at the conference that Britons are divided on immigration and on how to deal with migrants who try to reach U.K. shores on small boats — but that the issue ranks behind the economy, inflation and the health system as a priority for voters.
Delegates greeted her speech with loud applause, but one Conservative politician in the room was led out by security after challenging Braverman’s views on gender.
Andrew Boff, a member of the London Assembly, said Braverman has been talking “trash” about gender and “making our Conservative Party look transphobic and homophobic.”
“This home secretary was basically vilifying gay people and trans people by this attack on LGBT ideology, or gender ideology,” he said. “It is fictitious, it is ridiculous.”
The conference ends Wednesday with a speech by Sunak, who will try to shift gloomy polls and unite his fractious party by promising he’ll make tough decisions “to do what I believe is right for the country in the long term. “
“I think for too long politicians have just taken the easy way out focused on the short term. I want to do things differently,” Sunak told the BBC on Tuesday.