Tensions between Suella Braverman, home secretary, and Downing Street were running high on Sunday night as Rishi Sunak came under mounting pressure to sack her in a cabinet reshuffle.
Number 10 said on Sunday it was looking to tighten supposed loopholes in protest laws, intended to stop pro-Palestine marches becoming a focal point for antisemitism or the glorifying of Hamas.
But Home Office sources said the home secretary had already drawn up a list of proposed legal changes and that Downing Street had “sat on them” and failed to act. One Home Office source described Number 10 as “clowns”.
The bitter exchange suggests a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Braverman and Sunak, with speculation among Tory MPs that the prime minister could axe the home secretary imminently.
Last week Braverman infuriated Sunak by writing an article accusing the police of bias in policing demonstrations. Sunak’s spokesman said the article was “not cleared” by Number 10.
Downing Street declined to comment on “reshuffle speculation” but some Tory officials believe that Sunak could overhaul his team this week, possibly as soon as Monday.
Sunak is said to be looking at a range of legal changes and clarifications, including tightening the law on glorifying terrorists, the use of smoke bombs and trampling on statues, according to proposals first reported by The Sun newspaper.
Ministers would also look at ways to restrict certain chants such as “from the river to the sea” when the police discuss with organisers the conditions on which a protest could be approved.
A spokeswoman for Sunak confirmed that Number 10 had asked the Home Office to come up with proposals in the areas. “It’s something we are looking at,” she said. She denied that Downing Street had dragged its feet.
Sunak is under pressure to sack Braverman, after violent clashes between police and rightwing groups erupted on the streets of London as Britain remembered its war dead.
Braverman on Sunday doubled down on her criticism of a huge pro-Palestine march, even though most arrests were linked to a far-right counter-protest which led to violent scuffles at the Cenotaph on Saturday.
The home secretary said the pro-Palestine demonstration, which police estimated was attended by 300,000 people, had seen “sick, inflammatory and, in some cases, clearly criminal chants, placards and paraphernalia”.
Last week the home secretary branded Saturday’s pro-Palestine protest a “hate march” and accused the police of being biased and taking a tougher line against rightwing protests.
The Metropolitan Police described the clashes between its officers and the far right on Saturday as “extreme violence” and said the political debate about policing protests had combined “to increase community tensions”.
Braverman was accused by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of sowing the “seeds of hatred”, while Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan said the violence was “the direct result” of her words and behaviour.
Senior Conservatives joined the criticism. A former Tory minister said: “She has to go. Irrespective of whether she stirred up the violence, she will be held responsible. She’s the home secretary FFS. She should know better.”
Rightwing groups were involved in altercations with the police around the Cenotaph, the nation’s principal war memorial, and in violence elsewhere in the capital.
Police said people taking part in the rightwing “counter-protests” made up the “vast majority” of 145 arrests made. Some individuals were draped in England flags and broke through police lines at the Cenotaph.
The Met has also issued photographs of three people it suspects of antisemitic hate crimes during the pro-Palestine demonstration.
However, Braverman on Sunday focused her attack on the pro-Palestine event, thanking police for their “professionalism in the face of violence and aggression from protesters and counter-protesters in London yesterday”.
Referring to the Gaza protest, Braverman wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The sick, inflammatory and, in some cases, clearly criminal chants, placards and paraphernalia openly on display at the march mark a new low.”
She said “further action” was necessary, with aides explaining that a review was under way to address concerns that the Crown Prosecution Service was finding it hard to bring prosecutions in such cases.
Grant Shapps, defence secretary, insisted that the home secretary had not incited the violence by rightwing groups in her outspoken Times article last week, even though he said he would “not have used those words”.
“Those people who were going to come and try and disrupt this weekend had already said they were going to do it,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips.
Asked about a potential reshuffle and whether Braverman would be sacked, Shapps said it was a matter for the prime minister, but added: “A week is a long time in politics.”
The Supreme Court is set to rule on Wednesday on whether the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is legal.
Braverman, who retains support on the right of the Conservative party, has advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, and Sunak will be under pressure from some Tory MPs to take a similar stance if the justices strike down the policy.
Sunak said he expected any criminality at protests to be met with the “swift force of the law” and that he would be meeting Met Police chief Sir Mark Rowley shortly.