Rishi Sunak has appointed James Cleverly as UK home secretary in a move supposed to repair relationships with senior police officers and reassure rightwing Tory MPs after the tumultuous tenure of Suella Braverman.
The MP for Braintree, who backed Liz Truss to become prime minister, is expected to hold urgent talks with the Metropolitan police commissioner, Mark Rowley, after Braverman’s claims that the police were biased, Whitehall sources said.
Sunak’s decision to hand Cleverly his second great office of state is also meant to reassure traditional hard-right supporters of Braverman that they still have influence over key policies on immigration and policing.
One ally of the new home secretary said: “Cleverly was a Brexiteer before anyone had coined the term and was a key backer of the Rwanda plan under Boris [Johnson].”
Cleverly, 54, a genial presence in parliament’s bars and a solid media operator, has been credited with repairing relationships with senior civil servants in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office after damaging rows under Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Truss.
He enters the Home Office with a challenging in-tray which will include managing the fallout of from a crunch supreme court decision on Wednesday, when it will announce whether the government’s Rwanda deportation plan is legal.
There are mounting concerns over sexism within the police, claims that the Tories have undermined the police’s authority, rising crime rates and intense scrutiny of delays across the criminal justice system.
Cleverly also faces some potentially embarrassing questions arising from his past candour. As the secretary of state overseeing online safety and drug policy, he will be reminded that as a new MP he confessed to looking at hardcore pornography and taking drugs in an interview with the BBC’s John Pienaar.
Cleverly will also be in charge of new “camps” to house asylum seekers, including one at the RAF base in Wethersfield in his own constituency. When the policy was first mooted in March, Cleverly said he had asked the immigration minister Robert Jenrick to re-examine the decision in a lengthy posting on Facebook.
“I highlighted the remote nature of the site, the limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network and that these factors would mean the site wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation,” he wrote.
He has also faced claims from senior Tories that he, like his previous mentor Johnson, has treated the foreign secretary job like a “photoshoot” and was too easily influenced by civil servants.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, told the Mail on Sunday in June: “Cleverly is a total wet rag who wants to fly out to China to kiss the backside of a regime responsible for shocking abuses of human rights.”
His appointment could also be seen as a way of preparing to face down demands from the Tory right that the UK should leave the European convention on human rights if the supreme court rejects the government’s appeal over its Rwanda policy.
Cleverly said in April that he was not convinced that leaving the ECHR was necessary to ensure the immigration system was robust, and that the UK had the clout to push for changes if needed.
Cleverly issued an unusual public appeal to Sunak over the summer to keep his job as foreign secretary in the next reshuffle.
He told the Aspen Security Forum in July that he would have to be dragged out of his job “with nail marks down the parquet flooring” after speculation he could be moved to the defence brief to replace Ben Wallace.
Cleverly told the US conference: “If anyone in the UK is watching, listening, particularly you prime minister, I very much want to stay put … I very much want to stay put as foreign secretary. It’s a job that I love, I think it’s an important job.”
Cleverly was born Lewisham, south London in 1969. Like Braverman, his mother, a midwife from Sierra Leone, worked in the NHS. His father, a surveyor, ran his own business.
He attended a private school in south-east London, completed a BA in hospitality management studies and set up his own digital publishing business. He is a lieutenant colonel in the army reserve and continues to volunteer.
He was elected as a Conservative to the London assembly in 2008 and became a close ally of Johnson. He was one of only 30 guests at the wedding of Johnson and Carrie Symonds in May 2021.
Sunak’s reshuffle comes nine days before the autumn statement, prompting a shut down of rumours over Jeremy Hunt’s future. Rumours had been swirling that Sunak was considering sacking Hunt, amid suggestions the chancellor would himself stand down as an MP before the next election, according to senior Conservatives.
With Braverman, a key figure of the Tory right out of government, and David Cameron back in, questions have already been raised over whether the Conservatives will be able to unite in time for the next general election. The former prime minister is widely seen as part of the “one nation” moderate Tory caucus.