What the Braverman speeding incident says about Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak's answers fall into two categories, as Robert Peston reports from Japan

That was a historic meeting of the G7 leaders of the world's richest democracies.

They significantly toughened up their rhetoric and action against China, they promised for the first time to supply jets to Ukraine, and they began an important international debate on how to limit the potential harm from artificial intelligence while maximising the benefits.

This stuff matters. And it's what Rishi Sunak wanted to talk about at his press conference in Hiroshima.

But inevitably the first question, and the second, and the third, were about whether his home secretary broke the rules by asking her officials to help her with the private matter of her penalty for speeding.

I say "inevitably" because the story about Suella Braverman's potential breach of the ministerial code splashed the two best-selling Sunday newspapers, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday.

It was striking therefore that three times the PM gave a non-answer. He began with a meaningless holding statement, words that bore no relationship to the actual question, and subsequently referred his audience back to that irrelevant statement.

There was a particularly painful moment when he asked his first questioner, Chris Mason of the BBC, whether Chris wouldn't also like to ask something about the G7 - the territory on which this supremely technocratic PM feels comfortable.

'Did you have any questions about the summit?'

Chris, understandably, said he'd be satisfied with an answer about Mrs Braverman.

Here we saw both the strengths and the weaknesses of Rishi Sunak as PM.

One of those strengths is that he won't pass judgement until he has the facts, and he really hadn't spoken to the home secretary.

Another is that his instinct was to prioritise talking to other world leaders about the threats from Putin, China and AI over adjudicating on whether Braverman had crossed an important line by asking her officials to do her an improper favour.

Averting global thermonuclear conflict is no laughing matter, as it were.

But politics is not just about the big geopolitical issues. It is also about the character and conduct of ministers.

Here is what we've learned about Sunak.

Many of his predecessors would have been significantly worse prepared for the G7 negotiations but would have been better prepared for the Braverman question.

And although many will say Sunak is right to prioritise the struggle against Putin over an alleged misdemeanour by a colleague, he made quite a thing on his first day as PM of saying that his team had to be beyond reproach.

For Sunak, this is a "can he walk and chew gum?" issue.

So here is what Sunak said, when I asked him whether the G7 was all words and no action in respect of combatting the threats from China to the autonomy of Taiwan, and to the security of democratic nations.

"There is complete resolve and unity within the G7, first of all just recognising the systemic challenge that China poses to the world order. It is the only country with both the means and intent to reshape the world order.

"What we have done in the statement is make it very clear that we will work together, as the G7 and other countries, to make sure that we can de-risk ourselves and the vulnerabilities in our supply chains that we have seen from China; take the steps that we need to protect ourselves from hostile investment; and do so in a way that doesn't damage each other.

"We also had conversations about ensuring that important technology pertinent to our security does not leak to China".

His point, probably, is that the potential threat from China is one of the defining issues of our time, whereas home secretaries come and go.

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