Suella Braverman insisted she has done “nothing untoward” as she battled to save her job over claims she asked officials to help arrange a private speed awareness course for her.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering whether to order an investigation into allegations the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code by asking taxpayer-funded officials to assist with a private matter.
The Home Secretary insisted she had not sought to evade a sanction for speeding, and Downing Street said Mr Sunak still had confidence in her.
But No 10 pointedly refused to back her assertions that she had done nothing wrong following the speeding charge last year.
The Home Secretary admitted speeding, paid a fine and took penalty points on her licence.
But she did not deny asking officials for help in trying to arrange a one-to-one speed awareness course for her rather than simply joining fellow motorists on the programme which allows people with minor offences to avoid incurring points on their licence.
Mr Sunak, who flew back from the G7 summit in Japan overnight, spoke to both his independent adviser on ministers’ interests Sir Laurie Magnus and the Home Secretary on Monday as he considered his response.
Sir Laurie cannot begin an investigation into a minister’s conduct without the authorisation of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister told MPs: “I have always been clear that where issues like this are raised, they should be dealt with properly and they should be dealt with professionally.
“Since I have returned from the G7, I have been receiving information on the issues raised, I have met with both the independent adviser and the Home Secretary. I have asked for further information and I will update on the appropriate course of action in due course.”
In her first public comments on the row, Mrs Braverman did not deny asking civil servants to intervene.
Asked directly if she asked officials to arrange a one-to-one course for her, she told broadcasters: “Last summer, I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I took the points but we’re focused now on delivering for the British people and working for them.”
Pressed on the same question, she said: “In relation to the process, I’m focused on delivering for the British people, doing my job as Home Secretary and what I will say is that, in my view, I’m confident that nothing untoward has happened.”
Mrs Braverman then appeared for a regular session of Home Office questions in the Commons, telling MPs: “I paid the fine and I took the penalty and at no point did I attempt to evade sanction.”
Downing Street declined to endorse Mrs Braverman’s assertions that nothing untoward had happened and that she had not sought to evade a sanction.
A spokesman said the Prime Minister “wants to avail himself of all the information before he makes a decision” and “I’m not going to pre-empt that and set out his view before he’s done that”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mrs Braverman should resign if she is found to have broken the ministerial code.
Amy Leversidge, assistant general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said: “It is clear in the ministerial code that public duties must be separate from private interests and Suella Braverman really should have known better.”
The row stems from Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday reports that Mrs Braverman asked Home Office civil servants to help arrange a one-to-one driving awareness course, rather than the group session usually offered to motorists for minor speeding offences.
Officials are said to have refused the request, so Mrs Braverman allegedly turned to a political aide to assist her in attempting to arrange an alternative to a course with members of the public.
The speeding offence took place last year when Mrs Braverman was serving as attorney general.
According to The Daily Mirror, the Home Secretary’s special adviser repeatedly denied that Mrs Braverman had been caught speeding when a reporter from the newspaper put the suggestion to them last month.
A No 10 spokesman said that “of course” advisers should tell the truth to the press.
Allies of Mrs Braverman defended her, with former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggesting there was no need for an investigation.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “I would have thought the Prime Minister could think this through pretty clearly, that this is not a big story.”
He added: “What goes on in private offices is that a minister is busy, has many things to do and sometimes will ask for something that civil servants can’t do.
“But as long as, once they’ve said no, you accept it, then you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Tory MP Miriam Cates told the Daily Mail: “Suella has done nothing wrong.
“Around 1.5 million people take speed awareness courses every year so it’s hardly a news story. In smearing the Home Secretary like this, someone is clearly seeking to play the man not the ball.
“It’s underhand and undermines democracy.”
But the former head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake said Mr Sunak should “get on with it” and launch a formal inquiry.
The crossbench peer told Channel 4 News: “We don’t really have the full facts yet. And he doesn’t have the full facts I think.
“He seems to be doing a sloppy investigation before an investigation, but he’d be better just to get on with it and get Sir Laurie to undertake the necessary work on it.”